Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama Disappoints Animals, Props Up Breeders

by Stephanie Ernst

Published April 13, 2009 @ 05:30AM PST

No one in the AR community expected President Barack Obama to make animal rights one of his priorities. His positions and personal choices didn't give us a reason to expect that. But there was great hope in two areas: (1) the Endangered Species Act protections that the Bush administration worked to weaken and (2) the promotion of adoption of animals from shelters rather than the purchase of animals from breeders. But despite restoring some endangered species protections, he also chose hunting-happy Salazar as his Secretary of Interior and isn't challenging his pick's decision to delist the gray wolves--the same decision that was widely criticized by conservation and animal advocacy groups when Bush tried it, multiple times--and now he has done a great disservice to the millions of animals languishing and dying in shelters, by knowingly passing on the chance to set the most high-profile of examples.

There was great hope that Barack Obama was going to listen to the throngs of people--individuals and organizations--who begged him and his family, for months, to make their family dog a rescue dog, to make that responsible personal choice and set that very important example, to do what he could for the millions of dogs and cats killed in shelters each year. There were even several statements from Obama and family indicating they would indeed adopt a rescue dog.

This weekend, we learned otherwise.

This weekend, we learned that Obama has thrown support to the irresponsible, profit-driven animal-breeding industry by accepting a dog from a "prominent" Texas breeder. The story is that the breeder sold now-6-month-old Charlie to someone else earlier, and that person then returned him to the breeder. Now the breeder has "re-homed" the dog with the Obamas, with the help of the Kennedys, who themselves have purchased dogs from the breeder in the past. And that makes this a rescue? No. It doesn't. Charlie (who is being renamed "Bo" by the family) wasn't one of the millions of dogs one step away from unnecessary death in this country. He's a dog who would have been sold to another less prominent buyer. I'm glad this dog gets a great home. But he would have ended up with a home regardless. The real winners in this situation are breeders. And the losers are shelter dogs.

Yes, there are allergies in the Obama household. But there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, regardless of what breeders might tell you. There are certain factors to consider, and some dog breeds and some characteristics are more likely to trigger allergies than others, but there are plenty of dogs in shelters who would fit the "hypoallergenic" bill as much as a purebred Portuguese water dog from a breeder.

I'm terribly disappointed, as are countless other animal advocates across the country, that Obama made this choice, especially after all the constant discussion about how much good he could do by adopting a rescue dog and after the outrage that followed VP Biden's purchase of a dog from a breeder.

The Obamas' needs may have been more specific than Biden's because of the allergy issue, but they were just as capable of getting a dog from a shelter as he was. It was not that they could not adopt a true rescue dog. It was not that they could not find a dog with hypoallergenic-leaning qualities like those of a Portuguese water dog in one of the countless U.S. shelters. They chose not to. They made the choice to limit themselves to a specific, hard-to-find pure breed and to, as I understand it, a fairly young puppy. And they chose to take a dog from a breeder.

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