It's a dog's world in Darien
There are a lot of dogs in Darien: Big ones -- like Toby Keefe, a 5-year-old pooch, who is one of Darien's 38 registered German shepherds -- small ones -- like 2-year-old Lucy, one of 10 Corgis -- and everything in between.
In fact, here in Darien, we have one of the highest ratios of dogs to humans in all of southwestern Connecticut, with one dog for every 10 people in town.
Hearst Connecticut Newspapers analyzed 16,797 dog records registered with clerks across 11 southwestern Connecticut towns and cities (Bridgeport, Danbury, Darien, Greenwich, Milford, Norwalk, Oxford, Ridgefield, Sherman, Stamford and Westport) to sniff out the trends in dog ownership across our area. Here in Darien, there are 2,156 dogs on the books for 2012 -- that's even more than in Stamford, our neighboring city with six times as many humans as Darien, but 264 fewer dogs.
And while they walk on four paws and have been known to chase the occasional tail, many of the 2,156 dogs in Darien are living pretty human lives these days.
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"Thirty to 40 years ago, many dogs were in the backyard out in dog houses," he said. "More commonly today, they live in doors with the family and, commonly, they sleep in the bed at night."
That's the case for Rascal, an 8-and-a-half-year-old labradoodle (a mix between a Labrador retriever and a poodle) from the Riverside section of Greenwich.
"He does know he's a member of the family," said Rascal's owner Suzanne Ellison. "He thinks he's my fourth child."
The Ellisons decided to get a labradoodle based on their reputation for being mostly hypo-allergenic, since, like poodles, the breed has hair rather than fur.
"My middle daughter has allergies to cats and we were worried, so we were specific in our search for a dog breed," Ellison said. "My dog was a rescue dog growing up, and we would have done something like that. But we researched this, and thought we should get a dog who doesn't shed."
When the Ellisons first moved to Riverside about five years ago, Rascal was one of the only labradoodles around.
The breed first began gaining popularity in Australia in the late 1980s, and has taken off in the United States over the last decade or so.
"I think there have been much more over the past few years," she said. "You meet labradoodles around town, at the beach or on our walks, and they're puppies or two to three years old, but not much older than that, typically. I think it's gotten more and more popular."
Labradoodles are most popular in the area's more affluent towns. In Westport, the town clerk recorded 42 labradoodles in the 2012 census of dogs, which included a total of 1,570 dogs, meaning labradoodles account for roughly one in 37 dogs in the town.
In Greenwich it's one in 38, and in Darien it's one in 55.
"If you do a pricing on your crossbreeds of goldendoodles and labradoodles, they're more expensive than purebreds, selling for several thousand dollars," said Lisa Peterson, national spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. "I see the doodle dogs as the most expensive breeds."
These high-priced doodle dogs aren't the only poodle mixes making a name for themselves in Southwestern Connecticut. While there are a total of 167 Labradoodles in the registry, making them the 24th most popular breed in the area, Peterson pointed out that dog registration forms are filled out by the owner themselves. And while one labradoodle owner may list their dog as such, there are likely to be many more counted among the 752 "Labrador retriever Mix" dogs on the list. Ditto for the 146 goldendoodles (the 26th most popular breed) who may also have brothers and sisters listed among the 73 Golden retriever mixes.
Then there are the other poodle mixes. Altogether, there are 786 poodle mixes registered in the area, counting everything from the 195 cockapoos on the list (the 20th most popular breed) to the Schnauzer-poodle mix known as a schnoodle (No. 96 at 38 total dogs) to the sole springerdoodle -- a cross between an English springer spaniel and a poodle -- Harvey, who lives in Darien.
If you were to combine all these poodle crosses, the category would make it into the region's Top 5, coming in just barely behind No. 3 "Mix," with 803 dogs and before "Labrador retriever mix" with 752 dogs. The move would shift the poor Yorkshire terrier out of the Top 10 altogether.
But the Labrador retriever, a large breed that has been America's favorite since 1990, would still reign supreme in our area, and it's unlikely to be unseated any time soon.
In total, there were 1,962 Labrador retrievers listed on the 2012 registries, meaning that for every nine dogs you pass in southwestern Connecticut, you're likely to see one Lab.
In fact, Labs are far and away the most common dogs licensed in all but one of the 11 towns and cities analyzed: Bridgeport, where the breed comes in at No. 4, behind pit bulls at No. 1, Chihuahuas at No. 2 and mixes at No. 3. But even in Bridgeport, there are still plenty of Labs to be found, like Molly, the 3-year-old yellow lab who lives with the Escobar family.
"We knew that labs were friendly dogs and we really wanted a dog that was friendly, but at the same time, a dog we knew was big and could tell us if there was danger or anything," said Jackie Escobar. "But mostly, it's for her companionship."
Molly, who Escobar described as "beautiful if, I do say so myself," with super-long eyelashes, is a pure Lab, which is obvious by many of her traits.
"She's just like the epitome of a retriever. She'll retrieve anything for you. If you ask her, she'll get it. All you have to do is point to it and say, `Bring me that,'" Escobar said with a laugh.
But it's more than remote-fetching that endears the dog to her family -- it's also her temperament and playfulness.
"She's 3 years old, but she still really acts like a puppy," Escobar said. "She loves to play with every dog, every child and every person that she sees. She'll just run up to them and want to start playing -- that's just how Labs are."
The American Kennel Club describes the Lab as "an ideal sporting and family dog" which "thrives as part of an active family," and suburban Nutmeggers have taken that to heart, accepting Labs into their families and integrating them into their daily lives.
"They're so versatile and they do so many things so well that they appeal to a wide variety of lifestyles and people," said Peterson said, the AKC spokesman, who lives in Newtown, where she breeds Norwegian elkhounds.
Large breeds on the whole are toward the top of the list in most of our area's towns, a trend that aligns with the national picture, where smaller breeds like dachshunds and beagles "have been tumbling" from top spots on the list since small dogs peaked in 2007, according to Peterson. And in our area, having big dogs at the top of the list makes a lot of sense, she said.
"I think people in the suburban areas, they have more space, and they love their large breeds," Peterson said. We also love our Mollys here. Escobar isn't alone in choosing that name for her dog.
Across the 11 southwestern Connecticut towns analyzed 221 dogs are named Molly or Mollie, followed by Bailey, Lucy, Max and Bella.
Those names reflect the most popular names for newborn humans, according to the list released by the Social Security Administration, which revealed that Isabella was the No. 3 most popular name for girls in 2012, while Jacob was the top name for boys that year (Jake is our area's No. 11 most popular dog name).
In fact, it'll take a lot of effort to "See Spot Run" these days.
In our analysis, only five Spots popped up, sending the classic dog name to the bottom of the barrel these days, in favor of more human names. But when you spot a Spot, you're not likely to forget him.
"When I was a baby, there was that book, `See Spot Run,' and the first stuffed animal I got was a little Spot, and I always told my folks that when I got a dog, I would actually name him Spot," said Carter White, an 18-year-old Ridgefield resident and proud companion of a 6-year-old beagle named Spot.
White said that when he was 12 and Spot first came to live with him, he thought his best friend's name was so cliche "that every other dog was going to be named Spot."
But he's never met another one.
"People historically named their dogs with names that reflected their personality. I had a dog as a child named Tippy Toes because he had two white toes," said Peterson. "They would name their dogs based on their physical appearance, and now people tend to name their dogs more human names because they're members of the family."
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