Is There a Difference Between Mutts and Mixed-Breed Dogs?

eldadcarin/iStock via Getty Images
eldadcarin/iStock via Getty Images

July 31 is National Mutt Day, a day to celebrate everything great about mutts. In 2005, animal welfare advocate Colleen Paige created the day, which is acknowledged once again on December 2 (because all those good boys and girls deserve two days of nonstop treats and belly rubs). But what exactly is a mutt? Is it the same as a mixed-breed dog? And how does it differ from other dog breeds?

First off: The fact that National Mutt Day is also referred to as National Mixed Breed Dog Day should tell you something—namely, that mutts and mixed-breeds are basically the same thing. Meaning that, as the latter name suggests, they are made up of more than one breed of dog.

Whereas purebred dogs have registration papers that confirm the dog's single-breed pedigree, mutts aren't registered and each of their parents could be a mix of several breeds themselves.

Where it gets a little confusing is when you come to designer or hybrid dogs, where two specific breeds are intentionally cross-bred in order to create a sort of sub-breed that mixes the best traits of both pups (like mating a poodle with a Labrador to get a Labradoodle). Though designer dogs are extremely popular, they're essentially just fancy mutts. While the American Kennel Club (AKC) does offer some activities for mixed-breed dogs to take part in, the organization only formally recognizes purebred dogs on its official registry (sorry Puggle lovers).

Ladies Morgan and Mathilda Wood-Menzies
Ladies Morgan and Mathilda Wood-Menzies
Erin McCarthy

With so many different types of dog breeds, what are the benefits of adopting a mutt? According to the dog lovers behind National Mutt Day, approximately 80 percent of all shelter dogs are mixed breeds. That’s a lot of dogs—and a lot of dogs in need of forever homes! And there are plenty of benefits to adopting a dog versus purchasing one: first, adopting a dog is almost always cheaper than purchasing one from a (reputable) breeder. And because there are so many dogs in shelters, and only so much room to accommodate them, adopting a dog means that you're potentially saving one dog's life and making room for another dog to move in to the shelter. (Of the 3.3 million dogs that enter shelters each year, the ASPCA estimates that 670,000 of them are euthanized.)

And when you get your mutt home, the benefits continue. Though there's some debate over the topic, some experts have found that because mixed-breed pooches aren’t exposed to as many genetically inherited health issues, they can often be healthier. According to some statistics, mutts can also have a longer life expectancy. Mutts are great in work situations, too, like serving as guide and therapy dogs or sniffing out drugs and bombs. And in 2014, for the first time ever, The Westminster Kennel Club allowed mutts to compete in their annual dog show.

One downside to owning a mutt (if it can be considered a downside) is that if you don't know a dog's ancestry, you might have trouble predicting its temperament or unique behaviors. But many pet parents see this as one of the benefits of adopting a mixed-breed pupper: they're full of surprises and totally unique. (Plus, dog DNA tests are widely available, so if you really want to know what your dog is made of, it's easy to find out.)

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Does Pushing the Button at a Crosswalk Actually Do Anything?

Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
David Tran/iStock via Getty Images

Since crosswalk signals rarely seem to give you the green light (or more accurately, the white, human-shaped light) right after you press the button, you may find yourself wondering if those buttons actually work. The potentially exasperating answer is this: It depends.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that crosswalk buttons aren’t designed to have an immediate effect; they’re just supposed to tell the system that a person is waiting to cross. As CityLab explained, some systems won’t ever give pedestrians the crossing signal unless someone has pressed the button, while others are programmed to shorten the wait time for walkers when the button has been pressed. No matter what, the system still has to cycle through its other phases to give cars enough time to pass through the intersection, so you’ll probably still have to stand there for a moment.

During busy traffic times or under other extenuating circumstances, however, cities can switch the system to what’s known as “recall mode,” when pedestrian crossings are part of the cycle already and pressing the button quite literally changes nothing. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a particular button is in recall mode, short of calling your city officials and asking an expert to come inspect it.

But if you feel like a button isn’t doing anything, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been permanently deactivated. As congestion has increased and the systems to manage it have become more advanced over the years, cities have moved away from using crosswalk buttons at all. In 2018, for example, CNN reported that only around 100 of New York City’s 1000 buttons were still functioning. Since actually removing the buttons from crosswalks would be a costly endeavor, cities have opted to leave them intact, just waiting to be pummeled by impatient pedestrians who don’t know any better.

What about 'close door' buttons on elevators, you ask? That depends, too.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

NASA
NASA

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding. For 2020, that means February 17 through March 10; June 18 through July 12; and October 14 through November 3. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?

The History of "Mercury in Retrograde"

Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.

What is Mercury in Retrograde?

Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This piece originally ran in 2018.

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