Mutts are getting a whole lot more respect.

Already riding a surge of unprecedented popularity, dogs of mixed or unknown heritage are getting another boost. Whether short-legged, spotted, curly-haired, barrel-chested, pointy-eared or snub-nosed — or a combination of all of them — multibreed mongrels will be welcomed and extolled at a new registry and Web community launching this week at

The American Mutt-i-grees Club — created by the Pet Savers Foundation, the developmental arm of the massive North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y. — will give voice to the estimated 25 million owners of mixed-breed dogs, send mutt certificates to their pets and ultimately elevate the mixed-breed choice in the public consciousness, says J. John Stevenson, president of NSALA and managing director of the foundation.

"People are incredibly proud of their mixed breeds, and the time is ripe for there to be a way for them to communicate, share ideas and celebrate their choice," Stevenson says.

A parade of proud owners

Indeed, mixed-breed ownership has become something of a badge of honor in some quarters in the past decade or so. Many people who in previous years would not have considered anything other than a purebred now proudly parade about with an obvious mongrel at the end of a leash. They join the millions of mixed-breed owners who have long been almost rhapsodic in singing the praises of their mystery-breed canines.

Stevenson figures that the new club for mongrel lovers will not only be appreciated, but will "change, over time, the way many people view mixed-breed dogs in shelters." The club's efforts will be coupled with upcoming outreach initiatives by the more than 2,000 NSALA partner shelters across the country and educational programs to be launched next year.

The fact is that purebreds that enter shelters nationwide (25 percent to 30 percent of the intake numbers at most facilities) are generally adopted far faster than the mixed breeds. And it is believed that the vast majority of approximately 3 million dogs euthanized in shelters every year are mixed breeds. They are either the result of random encounters between neighborhood dogs, or the overflow from breeders and puppy mill operations that have begun creating litters of specific mixes called hybrids, such as the union of beagles and pugs (known as puggles) or Labradors and poodles (known as Labradoodles).

"Everything we're doing is an effort to promote the desirability of mixed-breed dogs," says Stevenson.

There are already some join-up opportunities for owners of mixed-breed dogs, including registration operations that issue paperwork for hybrids not recognized by the American Kennel Club, and organizations that exist primarily to put on competitive events for mixed-breed dogs.

Mutt-i-grees will "occupy a very different space" from the existing registries and clubs, says Stevenson. "We want to become somewhat the AARP of mixed-breed dogs. Just as AARP advocates issues relevant to seniors by aggregating a tremendous number of members, we, too, want to channel the voice of 25 million mixed-breed owners, to raise awareness and promote regulation to diminish the stronghold of puppy mills and irresponsible breeders."

'Sharing the love'

The proliferation of dog clubs, registries and communities is indicative of "the evolution in the way we view dogs in our society," says Stephen Zawistowski of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "There was a time when owning a dog was a thing you did by yourself. Now dogs are part of the social fabric of people's lives."

Being able to connect with others of like mind "is part of the belonging-ness of dog ownerships, another way of sharing the love," he says.

Children have not been left out of Mutt-i-grees' plans. Pet Savers has put together "Mutt-i-grees Cares," a program that is designed to heighten children's awareness of mutts and shelter animals.

And next fall, a humane-education curriculum that Pet Savers developed in partnership with Yale University's School of the 21st Century Program, operating in 1,300 schools across the country, will be rolled out to about 650,000 kids in pre-kindergarten through ninth grade.

All of the elements, Stevenson says, are intended to "elevate the status of mixed-breed animals" in the minds of those who haven't yet gone that route, and, just as important, send the message that "if you want a dog, you come to a shelter."

Even so, purebreds aren't denigrated. "We're not taking a stand against purebreds. We're not saying people shouldn't have a purebred if that's what they want," says Stevenson, adding he wants the shelter route to be a "top-of-mind option, and a mixed-breed seriously considered."

Mutt-i-grees program organizers expect 250,000 people to sign up on the Web site in the next 12 months. The free membership includes access to health tips, blogs, expert advice and cross-discussion among members; the $25 and $100 memberships provide merchandise discounts and special offers.