Another Opportunity Missed for Disposable Pets
Those who know me know I'm into recycling whatever we can, which includes giving pets a second chance at providing the thing they're best at - the opportunity to show their unconditional love and to be someones best friend. For me, the decision to rescue a dog instead of buying one came in the form of a lovable, playful Miniature Dachshund named Hershey. Nearly 13 years ago, we met Hershey while looking to buy a truck. I had just lost the last of my purebred Maltese and was waiting to get another dog when we returned from a vacation. I had planned to buy another Maltese from a responsible breeder. Hershey's owners told us they no longer wanted her and that she would end up at the animal shelter if we didn't take her home. Hershey had been previously abused by children, and she didn't trust or like them. We knew what that would mean for Hershey. She wouldn't have even been put on the possible adoption list by overworked civil servants at the local animal shelter. She simply would have been labeled as "unadoptable" and killed. Shelters cannot take the chance knowing a dog doesn't do well with children. We didn't have any small ones, so we gave her that chance.
For the next 9 years, Hershey provided us with everything she had to give - laughs, play, exercise and especially unconditional love. She was even known at our local lake by regulars and the water patrol as "the fishing dog in a pink life jacket" as I think she looked more forward to boating on Sundays than we even did.
When Hershey did something to make us laugh, or looked at me with those big brown eyes, or gently put a paw on my face while I held her so I would give her a "Hershey Hug," I often thought of what would have become of her had fate not brought us literally to her rescue that day.
My journey to never turn back to buying a dog came one hot summer afternoon while writing an article on municipal animal shelters for The Kansas City Star. I had the misfortune of visiting my local shelter on "kill day." This is the day when the decision is made by shelter workers about which dogs and cats will live, and which have been at the shelter too long, and must die to make room the following week for more.
The image of those dozens of paws, tails and heads protruding from those 55 gallon drums as they awaited the incinerator will be forever burned in my brain. The smell of death will never leave me.
There surely were more Hersheys in those heaps of carcasses, good pets wanting only to provide love to someone. To be man's best friend.
That's why it was such a major disappointment to me this week when President Obama and his family decided to take a Portuguese Water Dog from a breeder rather than fulfilling a promise he made months ago and adopt a homeless dog from a shelter.
The blogosphere has been abuzz for days (I haven't heard a word about the controversy in the mainstream media) about the Obama's choice of a dog. Some, I'm sure have no real idea about the plight of unwanted animals in this country, and are using Obama's back stepping as an example of promises broken. The people who advocate for buying dogs from breeders (responsible or not) are passionately (and sometimes viciously, from what I've read) defending Obama's choice.
The rest of us are just sad. Sad because it isn't about politics or the appearances of elitism for acquiring a dog worth at least $2,000 on the dog market. It's not about the "animal rights movement" inflicting our desires on the Obama's, nor is it even about the images that haunt us if we've been to a shelter on Kill Day.
about the thousands of shelter dogs that were killed just in the past few days since this story broke, and about the millions of pets - the millions of Hersheys - that will be killed by the end of this year in those same shelters. And, these days, especially in this economy, shelters are at capacity every single day.
The argument's been made over allergies, behavior, etc., but those of us who have been around rescues or shelters for any period of time know that a hypo-allergenic breed - even a PWD - could have been found (google the breed, and rescue, or go to petfinders.com and it will turn up PWD's right now), and could have been trained to behave as a First Dog should. The argument's also been made that re-homing a dog from a breeder is the same as getting a rescue - sort of. Fortunately, Bo was in no danger at all because although he was up for "re-homing," part of a responsible breeders business is to make a commitment to offer their offspring their own home if a buyer cannot be found. That's part of them being responsible. So, no, Bo was not a rescue. Not even sort of.
President Obama had an opportunity to be yet another first. The first President of the United States who adopted a homeless dog from a shelter or breed rescue. The benefits of the attention given to shelters and rescues would have been enormous.
Adopting a pet would have become The Thing to Do.
The second factor this is really about, for those of us who have also witnessed first hand the terrible conditions in puppy mills, is the new plight that will eventually strike the PWD breed, which will most likely become the next "101 Dalmatians" victims. This is the scenario by which a breed becomes popular and then becomes exploited by unscrupulous puppy mill breeders, who don't care where the dogs end up, as long as green is lining their pockets. It's happened to Dalmatians, Collies, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels and most every other breed that's been popularized in pop culture.
It won't be long before PWD's are popping up in pet stores around the country, and soon to follow, dozens and then hundreds, of shelters will be offering them for adoption. Sadly, there will be more killed.
Bo the PWD is one lucky dog, that's for sure. But the Obama's would have benefited shelter animals and the Portuguese Water Dog breed more as a whole, I'm afraid, if they would have just limited their pet choice to a box of Sea Monkeys.