Alisha Vianello is the Executive Director of Gateway Pet Guardians in East St. Louis. A life-long animal lover, she was heartbroken to learn of a tiny puppy abandoned on the highway in Jefferson County, Missouri.
At just four weeks old, there was no way the helpless baby could be a runaway. Luckily, a good samaritan found him and delivered the little ball of fluff to the local humane society where Alisha was currently working.
“I saw the cutest puppy sitting in a kennel alone with a sign that said ‘needs foster home,’ so I scooped him up immediately!” Alisha told iHeartDogs.
“I had fostered probably 50 puppies and always gave them up for adoption, but he was just so special and unique that I couldn’t live without him, so I adopted him.”
Alisha named him Bernie, and that unique puppy grew into an adorably goofy adult. With whispy black hair tipped with white, a curly tail, and silky-smooth ears, Bernie’s breed mix was a mystery and a topic of debate for 12 years. Then, earlier this year, Alisha decided to send Bernie’s DNA to Embark for testing.
With a simple saliva swab, Embark delivers a breakdown of a dog’s breed mix, genetic traits, and even potential health conditions. Results show that Bernie is 25.5% Miniature Schnauzer, 24.5% Beagle, 16.1% Pug, 13.7% Poodle, 4.7% Cocker Spaniel, 3.5% Pekingese, and 12.0% “Supermutt.”
For those wondering what the heck a Supermutt is, Embark explains:
“Many dogs descend from other dogs that were themselves mixed breed. The further in the past your dog has purebred ancestors, the smaller the identical segments matching our reference dataset are. In such cases, the best matches to our reference dataset are so small that they can no longer be confidently assigned to any one particular breed. Instead, these are assigned to the ‘Supermutt’ percentage.”
Bernie’s DNA test also revealed something Alisha never expected—a long-lost littermate!
“I got an email from Embark stating that Bernie had new relatives for me to view,” Alisha said. “Any other relatives I was shown were distant relatives but Molly was an ‘immediate family member’ and shares 53% of the same DNA and 89% of the same breed mix.”
Not only does Bernie have a full-on sister, but Molly and her mom Leanne live close by in St. Louis. Alisha reached out, and the two ecstatic dog moms set up an impromptu family reunion at a local park.
“Bernie and Molly were very excited and ran straight up to each other and were making the same shrill noise that they are famous for,” Alisha reported.
Bernie and Molly have much more in common than their happy squeals, which proved invaluable to Leanne. Unlike Alisha and Bernie, Leanne and Molly have only been together for three years. Leanne’s sister found Molly on the side of the road in the same county where Bernie was discovered nine years earlier. Before that, Molly’s history is unknown.
At the time of her discovery, a vet estimated Molly was about four years old, so Leanne was under the impression that her dog was currently seven. Having had Bernie since he was a tiny pup, Alisha was able to fill Leanne in on Molly’s true age of 12.
In addition to their senior status, the siblings also have surprisingly similar mannerisms and personality traits.
“Both dogs love to lay on the back of the couch and watch out the window,” Alisha explained. “They love to go on walks and hikes and can go for many miles despite their age. They have the same reaction to other dogs walking by, which is to bark and screech and cry like wild animals. They like to chase cats and wildlife and love to play with toys. Both like to co-exist with dogs but not play, and both are very food motivated.”
Leanne and Alisha also discovered that both dogs have the same medical conditions, further proof that they are true littermates.
“I was able to help them fill in some blanks because both dogs got warts and mild heart murmurs within the last year.”
Bernie and Molly have not gotten together since their initial reunion, but Alisha and Leanne plan to schedule a family hike once the weather cools down.
Featured Image c/o Alisha Vianello