Sunday, April 12, 2009

White Housebroken

First Family finally adopts a First Dog

More than five months after being elected President of the United States, Barack Obama has finally delivered on one of his most highly-publicized campaign promises: to get a dog for daughters Sasha and Malia.

Bo is an adorable six-month-old Portuguese water dog with both a purebred bloodline and a dynastic pedigree: that is, his original guardian was Senator Ted Kennedy, whose professional animal trainers had provided etiquette lessons “at a secret, undisclosed location outside Washington.” All this canine charm schooling paid off when Bo met the Obama girls at the executive mansion, where he reportedly followed them around, didn’t chew on any furniture, and avoided any potty faux pas.

The announcement has already rankled animal rescue advocates who wanted the Obamas to choose a mixed-breed dog from a shelter, maintaining that this would have set a positive example for the nation and the world that would ultimately save millions of homeless animals’ lives. President Obama had expressed interest in adopting a mutt last year, and an Associated Press poll conducted in January showed that more than two-thirds of Americans wanted the First Dog to be a mutt. However, in the end the Obamas decided to go with a porty because 10-year-old Malia is allergic to dogs, and this particular breed has been genetically selected to be hypoallergenic.

Purebred puppy proponents, on the other hand, maintain that the choice of a porty reflects the Obama family’s needs, and that they should be commended for doing the research necessary to ensuring their daughter’s health. “It's long past time to stop apologizing for owning purebred dogs,” wrote a dog trainer called Gaelen on her blog, Life Out Loud! “Dog ownership advocates, let's help the Obamas by supporting their choice. Let's put animal rights activists – who do little for the welfare of domesticated animals, and are primarily focused on their own anti-pet-owning agendas* – on notice: owning purebred dogs is a choice of which the Obamas, and everyone else who owns a purbred (sic) dog, can be proud.”

Symbolism and squabbling aside, here’s hoping the First Family is happy with their newest four-legged member. Neither Barack nor Michelle Obama have ever had dogs, and this will be Sasha and Malia’s first companion animal, so the experience may well open them all to a new way of relating to non-human species. Now that the doggy decision has been made, perhaps the nation will move on to weightier matters…although Bo is so cute, he may wind up stealing some of the President’s spotlight for many years to come!

* Click on the "Comments" below to read my response to this false accusation.


  1. Is it just me, or is the blogger Gaelen's claim that we animal rights activists "are primarily focused on (our) own anti-pet-owning agendas" patently ridiculous? I mean, I've been an AR activist for more than 7 years now, and most of the people I've met in the movement have animal companions who they dearly love. Many of them are also dedicated to rescuing dogs, so Gaelen's charge that we AR activists "do little for the welfare of domesticated animals" is also fallacious.

    The biggest difference between us AR activists and the purebreed fetishists is that we generally don't see ourselves as "owning" animals because they are not possessions, but living beings with their own needs and interests outside of their "owner's" emotional fulfillment. If this perspective is what Gaelen means by AR activists' "anti-pet-owning agendas," I can only assume she's referring to the Guardian Campaign (, a project started by In Defense of Animals (, an animal rights organization that I worked for from 2004-2008. While this type of work is far from what we AR activists "are primarily focused on," Gaelen's accusation is a common trope that is oft repeated by purebreed apologists who don't see anything wrong with encouraging people to purchase dogs while millions of healthy but unwanted canines are killed in shelters every year for lack of homes. I guess we just have different ideas of what it means to really "love" animals.

  2. Anonymous2:07 PM

    I am torn about this issue...

    On one hand I have to disagree that the fact that President Obama decided to take in the purebred from a breeder after announcing his commitment to adopting a rescue dog is not a pressing matter. What about the piece in "American Dog Magazine" where he was featured with Baby, the puppy mill rescue dog?? He seemed so committed to not only bringing to light the abuse animals receive in puppy mills, but also the financial drain breeders cause on the economy....I'm just saying, its disappointing and should be taken more seriously. And this whole thing about the hypo-allergenic issue, there are plenty of hypo-allergenic rescue dogs waiting for homes! Breeders will jump on any excuse to ensure the survival of their breeding business. Which, by the way completely goes against any Vegan philosophies of not exploiting animals and using them for a profit.

    However, on the other I am more upset at Senator Kennedy for presenting the First Family with a purebred after President Obama clearly stated he wanted to adopt a rescue dog. That kind of puts President Obama is a tough predicament. I bet he felt obligated to take the dog, whether he wanted to or not. I mean, come on, where would the dog go if he didn't take him? Who knows. Its a tough call.