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Obama can’t win — regardless of breed choice

Seldom, if ever, has so much weight been put on a single family’s choice of dog.

And seldom if ever has getting a dog —  normally a personal and joyful affair — become such a public exercise in risk management and political correctness.

At first it was a simple campaign promise to his daughters, Sasha and Malia, that they’d get a dog after the election — only slightly complicated by the need for that dog, in deference to Malia’s allergies, to be hypo-allergenic, if there even really is such a thing.

Now there’s talk that the Obama’s eagerly anticipated choice of dog breed, or hybrid — Newsweek magazine’s April 13 issue says to expect some developments within the week — could lead not just to a surge in purchases of whatever breed they choose, but could cause a boom to the puppy mill industry as well.

The logic, as outlined by Newsweek, goes this way: If the Obamas get a Labradoodle — even a rescued Labradoodle — it will spark an increase in demand for the hybrid, and since most hybrids are bred by puppy millers, they’ll start churning them out to meet the demand, or in anticipation of it.

If the Obamas get a Portugese water dog — the other choice they’ve mentioned — the same thing would happen because not a lot of that breed can be found in shelters or rescue.

In other words, Obama can’t win. The fear is any breed, or hybrid, the First Family picks could have a  “101 Dalmatians” effect: a sudden burst in popularity that breeders will try to capitalize on it by mass-producing similar dogs.

Even with Obama’s popularity, I think the fear is being slightly overstated — and I can’t think of any precedent for a president’s choice of dog leading to mass purchasing of the breed. I don’t think the presidency of younger Bush led to a surge in Scotties, anymore than the popularity of beagles was boosted by Lyndon B. Johnson. (History buffs, please correct me if I am wrong.)

Then again, with the Obamas, there are cute kids involved, and photo ops and, I’m sure, a media onslaught of tremendous proportions once the dog arrives, if how much coverage the issue (or non-issue if you prefer) has already gotten is any indication.

All this is another good argument for what was my personal preference, and really the only politically correct choice —  a shelter mutt. That way, the only copycat surge would be in the number of people going to their shelters to adopt dogs that already exist and need homes.

Of course, that was before I decided it was none of my business — that, ideally, a family’s choice of dog should be left up to that family, not pundits, political pressure, or internet polls. Has any other president been held to this level of scrutiny — or any scrutiny at all — regarding his choice of dog? (Note to future presidential candidates: Get a dog before you start your campaign.)

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but I’m not sure, at this particular moment, if they’re Obama’s.

(Photo: Posters by Shepard Fairey)


Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time April 8, 2009 at 9:22 am

Hmm. I think if you want to look at hype and mania and their impact on dogs, you have to leave the White House and go to Hollywood. It’s been happening out there since there were movies. Several breeds featured in various films and TV shows have become wildly popular, and this has often had chilling effects on the various breeds of dogs and on the dogs themselves.

The most stunning (and one of the saddest) recent example of this was massive acquisitions of Jack Russell Terriers following the popularity of Eddie, the dog on “Frasier.” This is a dog that looks cute. They’re tiny, perky, and smart. They’re also very difficult to handle, to train, and to care for. They can be aggressive in the wrong hands, they’re stubborn, and they require a lot of space and a lot of supervision. Their popularity soared, and the result was that they were massively abandoned. You’ll find the same sort of popularity spikes as far back as Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie. Breed rescue groups collectively wince and gird up for action any time a specific breed is popularized in Hollywood. And of course the puppy mills have a field day and prepare to rake in the cash.

I hope the Obamas will be able to adopt a loveable mutt. Even if they do, the profiteers will be trying to breed something that looks like that, and we’ll begin dealing with the aftermath less than six months later.