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Prof advises Obama to get southern dog

A psychology professor in North Carolina has advised President Obama to look south for a First Dog — they’re friendlier, more abundant and make better pets, he says.

Hal Herzog, in an opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, makes a couple of good points — and a couple with which we disagree. Chief among them is that the north, because of aggressive spay-neuter campaigns, has been left with a shortage of adoptable dogs.

“… The rush to pluck the reproductive organs from every household pet in America has been so successful that we may be running out of dogs,” he writes. ” … The more successful a region’s efforts are at controlling pet overpopulation, the more aggressive — and less adoptable — the dogs in their local animal shelter tend to be.”

As a result, he says, in the south — where spaying and neutering have been pursued less wholeheartedly and where shelter dogs are less likely to have rubbed elbows with nasty urban pit bulls — dogs are likely to be friendlier.

We disagree. Southern dogs aren’t any friendlier than northern dogs. Southern people? Maybe (Disclaimer: I’m from North Carolina). But not southern dogs.

For one thing, dogs in the south are certainly not any less likely to have been abused or neglected. And dogfighting operations are certainly not a northern phenomenon, nor strictly an urban one — as the cases of both Michael Vick, of Virginia, and Ed Faron, of North Carolina, attest.

Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., is a nice guy (I interviewed him a while back) who knows his stuff — his stuff being societal attitudes and behavior toward animals.  

He’s correct in pointing out there is a greater supply of shelter dogs in the south, and a greater demand for them in north — and that there is an informal pipeline in operation, shuttling southern dogs north. He notes that the animal rescue group in his rural North Carolina county ships 200 dogs a year to shelters in Connecticut, and that, since 2004, the Rescue Waggin’ program operated by PetSmart has transported 20,000 abandoned dogs from states such as Tennessee and Kentucky to places, mostly northern, where they are snapped up by grateful owners.

But to proclaim that southern dogs are, like southern iced tea, sweeter is a leap — one that disregards why so many of them end up in shelters there in the first place and ignores why shelters and rescue groups up north accept them. It’s largely because they know what will happen to them if they don’t. No kill/low kill shelters are less prevalent in the south.

And to suggest that there might be a shortage of adoptable dogs, anywhere, is off the mark, especially since the economy’s recent downturn. As he points out, there were 24 million dogs and cats put to death in animal shelters in the United States in 1970. By 2007, the number had fallen to 4 million.

Four million is still a whole lot of dogs.

(Photo from mooncostumes.com)


Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time January 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Yep. Spencer is a Southern dog and a good ole boy. And he’s certainly got a great personality. But here’s what we think might have happened to him. We think he was somebody’s field Beagle, based on the state of his ears and a few other traits and habits. He was found at the age of seven or eight wandering on a back road with two other dogs. He had heartworms, fleas, ticks, whipworms, and roundworms, and he had not been neutered. It took two months of treatment by a vet before he was ready to come North to his foster-home, and from there to us. You can almost bet that somebody let him out of their truck when he got too old to hunt as actively or developed some other problems related to all those parasites, or was just replaced by a younger dog.

We love him dearly, and we’re partial to hounds and hunting dogs in any case, but neither of his humans would be too happy to see the Obamas adopt a Beagle. We don’t want them to grow any more popular than they already are, because far too many of them are abandoned to their fate in middle or old age.

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time January 27, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Anne-n-Spencer, I loved your TALE! I too adopted a “Southern” pup brought to MD from an abandoned SC litter late last summer. She was gangly with poking ribs although highly spirited, obvious smart and very attracted to me on first sight. She is mostly bloodhound — is that Southern or WHAT?! — and despite my fears for how this strictly outdoor-raised pup would adapt to sofda-loving, multi-dog household, she just instantly trotted around my house on day one, trying out all the cushy spots and many toys. Her expression on Day One is memorable to this day, as in “You gotta be kidding me? I now live HERE?!” The Obamas seem newbie to dog worlds, but I hope that they adopt one, whatever breed or mix, with some unique history and personality. They will never regret that. Great story, JW…Thanks!