Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Tradition of Pretending Animals Are Rewards

I've been avoiding writing about this whole "new dog in the White House" thing, but figured that enough was enough.

So, to keep up the years long tradition of each new US President having an official White House Critter, the Obamas promised their daughters a brand new puppy if Obama was elected. One of the Obama daughters is allergic to dogs, but that won't throw a wrench into the longstanding tradition -- instead, the Obamas have been searching for a hypoallergenic breed. In the interim, VP-elect Joe Biden's gotten himself a three-month-old purebred German Shepherd. I stumbled across a bloggish piece in the Christian Science Monitor that mentions it. In this piece, according to Biden's spokesperson Elizabeth Alexander "[h]e’s excited to bring it home when it gets a little older and has promised that his grandchildren can name it after the New Year".

"It" pretty much sums things up. The puppy is a thing. A gimmick. Worse, Biden went to a breeder to get a dog, when in the US alone, 4 million companion animals are killed each year because they've been abandoned or mistreated by people. Many of those are purebred dogs.

The CSM piece is titled "Biden gets new dog -- animal rights advocates not happy". What got my attention about is that the supposed animal rights advocates named in the article are the folks from HSUS and those from PETA, which are both clearly animal welfare organizations and not animal rights advocates. And this whole "Let's hope Obama does the right thing and gets a shelter dog" just misses the point altogether. You don't promise someone a dog the way you'd promise them a car on their 16th birthdays. There's no heavy symbolism in the Obamas' getting a shelter dog, unless that symbolism is that dogs are things to be given. Sure, I'd rather see President-elect Obama rescue a dog from a shelter rather than perpetuate the companion animal status quo by getting one from a breeder. Whatever he does, though, means little when you look at the bigger picture.

Or so I thought when I started reading the comments left by CSM readers:

"It’s a dog, who cares where it comes from."

"Why should the Bidens, or the Obamas, have to accept somebody else’s leftovers?"

"Bringing in an unknown dog from a shelter is risky especially when you are dealing with kids. Often no history about the cute dog is known. Perhaps it was abused, beaten, had a tough life or for whatever reason would like to snap and eat your child’s head off. [...] The positive is, he bought from a reputable breeder, some one who breeds dogs for the love of the breed."

"Don’t breeders have a right to do business or is PETA saying that all dogs should be gotten from the pound. I have a dog which is wonderful and was gotten through a no-kill humane society. But there is nothing wrong with getting a dog from a breeder and why should they have to join the ranks of the unemployed."

Ah, that old grey area that I can't for the life of me ignore. I keep forgetting the level of ignorance held by so many when it comes to animals species we deem worthy to welcome into our homes. As much as I hate this whole White House tradition and the message I can't help but feel it delivers, I guess that I can't help but hope, myself, that the Obamas -- if they have to go through with this act at all -- do choose to adopt from a shelter: If only to send the message out that just because you've been abandoned doesn't make you a bad dog; in some cases, it just means that there are bad caregivers.

1 comment:

Chandelle said...

I thought the same thing when I heard about the dog - "I sure hope they use a shelter." Of course they won't, which is so disappointing because what a wonderful message to say, These dogs are just as good and I'm not going to support puppy mills just to have papers for an animal I'm going to love either way.