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Mixed breeds are hot new trend

SNELLVILLE - Once, books were written and movies were made about rugged, powerful dogs that stopped crime and saved children.

But Lassie has stepped aside for the labradoodle.

Jack London's Buck has made way for the bich-poo.

These dogs are known as cross breeds - adorable and expensive.

Mary Ellen Wertanen is lucky if they last a day in her pet shop. Thursday she got a malti-pom, a mix between a maltese and Pomeranian. Friday morning, it sold for just under $800.

Coined designer dogs, malti-poms and the like are "the hottest thing in the industry," said Wertanen, owner of Pet Super Store at 2325 E. Main St. in Snellville.

Although mixed breeds, they aren't mutts. They are the blend of two purebred dogs, usually involving a poodle. The results include the labradoodle, cockapoo and goldendoodle.

The most popular designer dog now is the puggle, or a cross between a pug and beagle. Some go for as much as $900.

Mutts, on the other hand, have a bunch of ingredients in the mix, "like Heinz 57 sauce," said Anna Harris, who owns Ozark Gals Wholesale Companion Puppies in Gatewood, Mo.

Mixed breeds have been around for a while, but their popularity has soared in recent years, said Harris, who has been in the business for 22 years.

One reason mixed breeds are in demand is that they're hypoallergenic. Poodles are used for breeding because they don't shed as often or create as much pet dander.

Another reason for their popularity is the novelty.

"A lot of times, people just want to say they have something unique," Harris said.

She has to set boundaries, though. The bulldog and Shih Tzu mix is out of the question.

"We get that request, but I'll say no to that one," Harris said.

Whatever lies behind consumer demand, the price of designer dogs is climbing.

Harris, who supplies puppies to about 40 pet stores, said mixed breeds were sold to retailers for as little as $50 a few years ago. Now, the price could be at least 10 times as high.

At Pet Super Store in Snellville, Wertanen has ordered a schnauzer-bichon mix she expects next week. It probably won't stick around too long, she said.

"I bet 25 percent of my customers say they want a dog that won't shed or produce dander," she said. "So many kids today have allergies, and they need inhalers."

But the cockapoos, goldendoodles and malti-poms have more going for them than good skin.

"They're cute, fluffy and cuddly, too," Wertanen said.