If you love dogs, as I do, a high moment in President-Elect Obama's speech had to be his words to his daughters, Malia and Sasha, promising that when they move into the White House, their long-held dream of a puppy will be fulfilled.
Seven years ago, 11-year-old Snowman reminded me that I had promised our family would get a dog when I finished seminary. I pointed out that graduation was still six months away, but he pointed out that such matters deserve some study, and we invested in a book about dog breeds, which he perused exhaustively.
My real plan? To get a rescue dog, of course. Our cats came from the refuge league, surely our dog would, too. I believed in rescuing animals, not buying them. I certainly knew better than to go to the pet store in the mall, having some vague knowledge of puppy mills.
There is no question that the
Obama's puppy search presents an opportunity to educate the public
about the right way to find a dog, whether a purebred or a mutt. If you
want a purebred, go through the national and/or regional breed club for
a list of breeders who meet the club's qualifications for ethical
breeding standards. In the case of a Bernese Mountain Dog, that
included doing certain kinds of testing for inherited health problems. If you want a rescued dog, check out the pups at your local shelter, and ask a lot of questions, including why certain dogs are not placed with certain families. (Chloe, pictured here, is a rescue pup featured on The Daily Puppy.)
In the late winter of 2002, I began visiting the Animal Refuge League, looking for a pup. But the refuge league had NO puppies (due to the
effectiveness of spay/neuter education in Maine) and would not place any of the
other dogs they had with a family that had cats and/or a child under 10. They
knew and liked us from cat adoptions, so it wasn't personal. I'm certain almost
any rescue group would love to place a dog with the new First Family, but
realistically, most rescue groups have standards for the families with whom
they place a dog, and those standards need to apply in this case,
We ended up seeking a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, and Molly joined our family that spring. I still had not learned how to navigate the world of dog breeders; I did not use a referral program. We brought home a puppy with a long list of physical problems we would later discover, though no one could beat her for joyfulness in living. We couldn't possibly regret having Molly, but I learned a lot about the way to find a dog, the questions to ask, and the support available in the world of purebred dogs.
All over the web, well-meaning dog people have offered up opinions about what kind of dog the Obamas "should" adopt. I hope dog-loving groups and individuals will take into consideration the many
factors the Obama family will be considering as they choose a puppy to take to
the White House and not focus on making their choice for them. The last
thing the dog world needs is a bad match with a little girl's allergies and a
dog who has to be "returned" to rescue.
People are raising their "voices" to swear that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, but I want to ask for some peace and space for the Obamas.
(And there is no rule that says they have to be, as Light Princess said when younger, "cut into shapes.)
A White House dog must adjust to multiple staff
members, people coming and going, even Secret Service protection. Temperament
and training will be crucial to a happy placement. Molly tells me she would willingly volunteer for this national service if only her coat would not make a child feel ill.
(Sam feels he can better serve at home, although should bad people try to get through the gates, he could certainly bark at them, fiercely. While wagging his tail.)
Finally, the Obama family will be fine on two of the touchiest issues with both breeders and rescuers. At the White House, *someone* is
always at home. And the yard? Definitely fenced-in.