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In a US now in puppy love, Labs still tops, but corgis rise

NEW YORK – America's dogs are having their day as the coronavirus keeps many people at home more with their pets and spurs so much adoption and fostering that some shelters' kennels have emptied.

But while much is changing for people and pooches around the country, here’s something holding as steady as a dog with a favorite toy: Labrador retrievers remain the nation’s most popular purebreds for a record-extending 29th year, according to American Kennel Club rankings being released Friday.

The rest of the top 10 includes German shepherds; golden retrievers; French bulldogs; bulldogs; poodles; beagles; Rottweilers; German shorthaired pointers — and, for the first time, Pembroke Welsh corgis.

Some highlights and lowdown on the canine charts:

RANKINGS EXPLAINED

The rankings indicate the relative popularity of different breeds among the 589,868 purebred dogs, mostly puppies, that joined the nation’s oldest dog registry last year. Registration is voluntary.

The list includes the 193 breeds that the AKC recognizes — no Labradoodles, puggles, Yorkipoos or other “designer” hybrids, at least for now. Breeds sometimes get added over time.

The chart also doesn’t reflect the everyday mixed-breed dogs that make up a vast share of the estimated 77 million or more canines in U.S. homes.

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THE CORGI CHARM

Pembroke Welsh corgis (not to be confused with somewhat larger, longer-tailed Cardigan Welsh corgis) have a long history of herding cattle and sheep in their native Wales.

But Pembrokes have become best known as companions of their most famous fancier, the U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth II. Another Pembroke was California’s social-media-friendly “first dog” for a time during former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration in the 2010s.

The short-legged, long-bodied breed is known for being spunky and sociable.

“They’re really darned cute ... and they’re just fun to be with,” said Bobbe Lord of Boonton, New Jersey, a longtime owner and breeder.

Lord surmises Pembrokes got a boost in recent years from some popular, corgi-focused social media accounts and the Netflix series “The Crown,” which chronicles Queen Elizabeth II’s life.

Lord appreciates the interest in her beloved breed but also worries about inexperienced people thinking they can make big money by breeding trendy puppies.

“If you’re doing it right, that doesn’t happen,” she said.

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THE SCARCEST BREED

The English foxhound is the rarest breed in the new rankings. The sizable, high-stamina and vocal hounds have a long history in the U.S. but aren’t often found as purely house pets. Fans tend to deploy the dogs for their traditional, pack-hunting purpose.

“It’s a beautiful breed. I just don’t think people see them enough to know about them,” says AKC spokeswoman Brandi Hunter.

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PUREBREDS, MIXED-BREEDS AND NEW POPULARITY

For years, animal-rights advocates and some humane groups have complained that the popularity of purebred dogs leads people to buy pedigreed puppies instead of adopting mixed-breed pets that need homes.

And for years, the AKC has countered that breeding helps pair dogs with owners who want to know what to expect in a canine, whether the priority is fugitive-tracking acumen or an activity level that matches the household’s.

Now, those on all sides of the debate have something to cheer in common: The coronavirus crisis has prompted more people to seek out dogs, every which way.

The New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says it has gotten over 1,500 online applications to foster dogs and cats since March 15, six times more than the same period last year. Seventy percent more animals have actually gone into foster homes in recent weeks, compared to last year.

“During this period of great uncertainty, one bright spot has been the incredibly compassionate response from people willing to open their homes to adopt and foster vulnerable shelter animals," CEO Matt Bershadker said. The ASPCA doesn't currently need foster homes right now but notes that could change as kitten season continues.

Dog breeders are also getting more inquiries: Lord says she’s been fielding five to seven a day lately, though she has no puppies available.

The AKC urges purebred-seekers to research breeds for the right fit and to plan ahead for pet care for when — someday — people return to more normal routines.

“We are in a very unique situation being at home all of the time,” Hunter notes. “For many of us, that will not always be the case.”