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July 07, 2008

Elect Adoption

Whatever the outcome of the November presidential election, once the voters have had their say, Malia and Sasha Obama will get a dog. That’s the deal that Barack Obama’s daughters have struck with their father and mother. According to Michelle Obama, the girls exuberantly remind their parents about their pledge almost every day.

Wheaten terrier dog at animal shelter
© The HSUS/Bill Petros
A wheaten terrier at an animal shelter.

Over the weekend, at www.presidentialpup.com, the American Kennel Club launched a public contest to help the Obamas choose a dog, identifying five "hypoallergenic" breeds—the bichon frise, Chinese crested, miniature schnauzer, poodle, and soft-coated wheaten terrier—as the best choices for the Obama daughters, since one of the girls reportedly has allergies.

For a presidential candidate or a president, there are few very private decisions and this is not going to be one of them. For animal advocates, the breed type is just a small part of the story, and the AKC gambit is viewed as incomplete, if not somewhat wrong-headed. Most important to animal advocates is where the dog comes from. Don't even think about a pet store or an Internet seller—those dogs come from factory-style puppy mills, where they are treated not like pets, but like a cash crop. That's like buying a seal skin fur coat, or getting a handbag made from an endangered species. It's beyond politically incorrect—it contributes to abuse and cruelty to animals.

The overwhelming view among animal advocates is that the Obamas should go to a shelter or breed rescue group to obtain a dog. With 3-4 million dogs and cats killed in public and private shelters, there are many lives to be saved, and the simple act of giving a home to a dog who might have faced euthanasia would do wonders for the cause of adoption from shelters.

It's also probably the least costly option, for any family. Going to a breeder will cost much more. And then there's the matter of the societal costs of animal care. The more animals adopted from private and public shelters, the lower the burdens on all of us as taxpayers and charitable givers. Every year, Americans spend more than $1 billion caring for dogs and cats in shelters—and that cost could be dramatically reduced if more people adopted from shelters, rather than purchasing animals from pet stores, Internet sellers, or other breeders.

The Obama girls can find their match through www.Petfinder.com or www.Pets911.com. Even if they have their hearts set on a particular breed, that type of dog can be found through a shelter or breed rescue group. With a couple of million dogs to choose from, there's every kind of wonderful creature waiting for a loving home, whether mixed breeds, purebreds, large, medium, or small dogs. They're all right there, just waiting for a loving embrace.

(As for the McCains, it would appear that they are set, with 24 pets, including four dogs.)

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