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April, 13th 2009

Going to the dogs

– Liz Mair

Oh dear Lord, I leave my blog and politics alone for a few days, and what should happen but a conspiracy theory crops up involving... the new First Dog.  Yes, really:

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle said during the presidential campaign that they had promised their two girls a dog after the election.

The Obamas repeatedly said they wanted it to be a rescued dog such as one from a shelter. Their search was complicated by daughter Malia's allergies, which would rule out many of the "mutts" the president has said he would prefer.

Enter Bo, a 6-month-old puppy given up by his first owner and matched with the Obamas through his breeders. Because he was given up by his first owner as a poor fit and is now with his second owners, the Obamas, but never spent time in a shelter or with a rescue group, Bo is a "quasi-rescue dog," says Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States.

Here's where the intrigue comes in:

—Bo's breeders happen to have bred Sen. Edward Kennedy's Portuguese water dogs. The Massachusetts Democrat, an Obama friend and political ally, also acquired a pup from Bo's litter. Bo's breeders are fans of Obama and named Bo's litter the Hope and Change litter.

—Bo's first owner lives in Washington.

—Bo was returned to the breeder in early March, fitting the spring timeline the Obamas had given for their dog adoption.

—Kennedy and his wife Victoria helped line Bo up with the Obamas. Before moving into the White House, the pup spent nearly a month with the Kennedys' dog trainer in Virginia.

In fact, Bo is a gift to the Obamas' daughters, Malia and Sasha, from the Kennedys...

This smacks of ridiculousness, no?  I'm just waiting for the first of my more conspiracy-minded contacts within the blogging world to email me and say that this is proof that Obama is up to something.  While I have no doubt that he is (jacking up the national debt, going after pirates, etc, etc, both of which seem obvious enough), I do hope that we don't find this story being used as fodder for political attacks tomorrow morning.  One has to draw the line somewhere, after all, and bringing the family dog into the usual partisan/philosophical back and forth seems a bit much.  Leave the kids and puppies alone!

That being said, as an animal lover and a big fan of pet rescues, I will just throw this out there.  While I never read anything Obama said on the dog front as a commitment to adopt a straight-up rescue dog, or a dog from a shelter, I probably would have preferred it if he had, and done so clearly and without question.  Every pet I've had since the age of about ten has been a rescue; as anyone then working on the first floor of the RNC will tell you, I was ecstatic on Matt Lewis' behalf when he adopted his pug, Uncle Rico, last year.  I was kind of hoping that Obama, if and when he got his daughters a family dog, would follow Matt's example, specifically.  Like Obama, I also like mutts.  But I understand skin allergies-- and a purebred rescue would present an easy way of getting around them, while sending a good message to the public as a whole, and, of course, giving a deserving pet a new (and great!) home.  With this adoption, Obama has arguably accomplished all of these things still.  But I think he could have utilized the bully pulpit ever so slightly more effectively had he gone the route that I believe Matt did, and found a dog already placed with an actual purebred rescue, as opposed to deposited apparently with the Kennedys by its initial owner. 

Ultimately, I'm glad the dog has a home and I wouldn't want it not to, obviously (it is adorable and I'm sure Malia and Sasha Obama wil treasure it).  But Pacelle has a point when he says that "so many activists are focused on trying to reduce the number of animals euthanized at shelters, and there's no better person to make the case to the American public that you can get a great dog from a shelter than the president."  One hopes that maybe the Obamas will acquire a second dog, when this one is a bit older, perhaps, say, one of these.  I can tell you, having owned one myself, that they shed hardly at all.  And as luck would have it, there's a rescue organization specializing in the breed right here in DC-- even currently adopting out a dog previously used for breeding in a puppy mill.  Now admittedly, adopting a Scottie might seem like too much continuity between the last administration and this one.  But c'mon, who apart from that Reuters correspondent didn't love Barney?

Seriously, though... congratulations to the Obamas on their new family pet, and let's hope this ultimately makes a good case for people adopting, whether or not the First Dog's rescue was 100% kosher or not. [intro]

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