Print Edition - 2019-02-08 | Oped
The surprise in my dog’s DNA test
- And what it taught me about myself
Feb 8, 2019-
The results of my friend Chloe’s DNA test are in, and her father is not who we thought.Talk about a bombshell! Half of her ancestors are not only from a place we did not expect, but are, in fact, of a whole different breed.
Did I mention that Chloe is a dog?
We were sure she was a black Lab. But two weeks ago, I swabbed the inside of her mouth with a special brush and sent it off to a new dog DNA testing service called Wisdom Panel. Now they tell me Chloe is only half black Lab; the other half is—drum roll please—flat-coated retriever, a breed, quite frankly, I’d never heard of. According to the American Kennel Club, flat coats are “the Peter Pan of the sporting group.” The club describes them as “happy, self-assured and eager to please.” Also: easily distracted. That describes Chloe pretty well. She’s a joyful creature, although one minute she is looking at me with eyes that say, I love you, Jenny Boylan, and the next, she is all, Wait. What were we talking about? Suddenly I own a different dog than I thought, although the dog I own has not changed.
This story is the tail-wagging version of an increasingly common drama, as DNA tests become ubiquitous. I know of at least three people who have taken them as a lark and found—well, let’s just call them “surprises.” A former student of mine, Aaron Long, was a sperm donor in the 1990s; in the last year he’s been contacted by at least a dozen of what he estimates are his 67 biological children.
In a particularly strange and wonderful twist, he is now dating a woman who gave birth to one of his daughters. Or to put it another way, the mother of his child, after 13 years, now has her daughter’s father as her boyfriend.
“It’s kind of like I’m living in a science fiction story,” Aaron told the hosts of “Good Morning America.”
The author Dani Shapiro has a terrific new book, “Inheritance,” which recounts her own version of this mystery. After taking a test not unlike the one I gave my dog, Ms. Shapiro learned that the man she thought was her father was, in fact, no relation to her. “By the time I went to bed that night,” she writes, “my entire history—the life I had lived—had crumbled beneath me, like the buried ruins of an ancient forgotten city.” The lucky readers of “Inheritance” will find Ms. Shapiro building herself a new city.
It was back in 2014 that my fourth cousin M.J. Boylan found me on the genealogy site Ancestry, and since then we have become close: I call her my “first sister once removed.”
Last year we went to Ireland together, the same country our great-great grandfathers left over 175 years ago.Walking along the strand together near the Boylan cottage in Ballyferriter, in County Kerry, I felt a profound sense of belonging.
I wonder, though, if someone told me that M.J., after all, is no blood relation, would I lose my sense of connection with her? Would it really be so unlike the situation with Chloe, if the person I love turned out to be someone other than I had thought?
What question is it we are trying to answer, when we set off in search of our ancestors? Clearly it has something to do with connection, with the wistful hope that learning about where we come from will help us understand who we are.
What gives us that faint interplanetary chill of awe is not the commonplace matter but the knowledge that it’s come back to us from such an abyssal distance, from some place that was torn from us long ago, a place we’ve always looked to with wonder and yearning, but never dreamed we would ever really go.”
Chloe, for her part, is unconcerned. You really don’t know who you are, or why you’re here? she says to me with her soft brown eyes.
We are here to love one another, and to be loved.
Wait, what were we talking about?
— © 2019 The New York Times
Published: 08-02-2019 13:09