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Michelle Sathe: Doggone disappointing

Posted: April 18, 2009 10:37 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Malia Obama walks with their new dog Bo as President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Sasha follow on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Tuesday.

The nation’s top dog has deeply disappointed the homeless dogs of America and their supporters.

Though he repeatedly indicated his preference to adopt a shelter or rescue dog for his family, President Obama instead accepted a “gift” from Senator Ted Kennedy — a 6-month old Portuguese Water Dog named Bo.

By doing so, Obama missed a prime opportunity — a responsibility, even — to educate the American public on the benefits of adopting a homeless dog from government shelters or nonprofit rescue centers.

Imagine the photo op had Obama gone through with his original intentions: The Obamas visit a D.C. shelter, interact with the staff and volunteers, and select one lucky, adorable dog to take home.

As the dog gives Malia or Sasha a kiss, the crowd bursts into applause.

With one action, this massively popular president could have set a precedent and encouraged America to adopt, rather than shop, for a dog.

Instead, the copycat culture in our society, who mob J. Crew in a frenzy to emulate Mrs. Obama’s latest sweater set, will now most likely rush to breeders to get the latest designer dog.  Just like the Dalmations, Chihuahuas and Yorkies, popularized by films and celebrities before them, the Portuguese Water Dog will soon be appearing at a shelter near you.

Granted, Malia Obama is allergic to most dogs, so the family had to find a “hypoallergenic” breed.

While approximately 30 percent of dogs at shelters are purebred, hypoallergenic breeds are not always readily available.

However, rescue centers across the country, many of which are breed-specific, were ready and eager to provide the Obamas with a hypoallergenic breed or mix, such as the Labradoodle originally mentioned as a contender for First Dog.

In fact, news reports following Bo’s introduction revealed that with a few keystrokes on the Internet, a young rescued Portuguese Water Dog named Pepper, described as a “sweet dog who loves kids,” was found to be available for adoption at a rescue center in nearby Arlington, Virginia.

What’s particularly discouraging about Obama’s reversal on adoption is that throughout his campaign and subsequent journey to the White House, he seemed to want to do the right thing, to fight for the underdogs of the world and tear down, or at least tone down, the elitist attitudes that have permeated American politics for decades.

His “mutts like me” comment brought down the house at a press conference.

When he and the first lady consistently stated that they intended to adopt a dog rather than buy one, the animal welfare movement was overjoyed. Finally, a national-level player would bring positive attention to the cause of homeless dogs and substantiate that they were just as good a pet as their store- or breeder-bought counterparts.

By contrast, the acceptance of Bo from Kennedy, who purchased his own Portuguese Water Dogs from the same breeder in Texas, was a signal that the president is not just another Washington smooth-talker, but even worse, a hypocrite.

The First Dog selection should have been a day of celebration for homeless animals in America. Instead, it was a subdued affair, with Bo trying to be passed off as “re-homed” and the Obamas pledging a donation to the local humane society.

That’s guilt money that won’t go very far.

What the millions of homeless dogs in this country needed was a voice from our leader that their lives are as valuable as that of the purchased purebreds that Kennedy and his rich, powerful cronies prefer.

They needed hope that the attention from the Obamas adopting would have helped them find a home of their own.

They needed change from their grim fate of being put to sleep at our government-run shelters, where more than 2 million dogs are euthanized every year.

What they got was more of the same. What a shame.

Michelle Sathe is a senior staff writer for The Signal. Her column reflects her own views not necessarily those of The Signal.


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