For the President of the United States, the personal is the political. Nothing he does in his private life is off limits and without implication, it seems.
Take the case of food. Animal advocates, slow foodies, and sustainable agriculture types have been trying to get into his pantry from the beginning. They’ve been more than heartened and encouraged by the First Lady’s decision to plant a vegetable garden on White House grounds and about the healthier fare the new White House chef is preparing for the family. It’s all about a higher standard of personal conduct that sets an example for the American public and it’s also a possible predictor of sounder policies that may flow from Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USDA.
© The White House
Bo, the Obama family's new dog.
It’s through that same lens that so many animal advocates have had their tongues wagging about the First Family acquiring a dog—the anticipation heightened by President Obama’s own positive pre- and post-election wishes to go to a shelter for a dog for the girls. With all the shelter talk, he set high expectations, especially given that his predecessors never hit that high mark in bringing their pets into the White House. And he and the First Lady acted responsibly in postponing any decision about a dog until they were well settled in their new home, an approach we recommend to potential adopters.
Admittedly, the choice was complicated for the Obamas by daughter Malia’s allergies, and the information circulating about suitable pets for their situation. Nevertheless, the Obamas’ decision disheartened animal advocates. But the circumstances do have some shades of gray for animal advocates, given that the dog, now named Bo, was in a home, but was apparently returned to the breeder because he was just not the right fit. For that reason, we call him a second-chance dog. And we’re happy for Sasha and Malia, who have been exceedingly patient in waiting for a pet to join their family.
Nonetheless, the disappointment in America among our supporters is palpable, and I’ve been getting lots of emails from folks who feel passionately that an opportunity was squandered to help America’s shelters and the animals in them.
Only 20 percent of dogs in homes come from shelters. And there are nearly 2 million dogs euthanized each year. If we just increased that percentage of homes with dogs from shelters—to 30 or even 40 percent—we would solve the euthanasia problem. Obviously, there’s no one to provide a better example to the American public than President Obama, and no one better to say there’s not a thing wrong with dogs at shelters.
So be disappointed, but don’t despair for long. Hold him accountable to make other decisions that will have enormous implications for animals. He can still laud shelters and speak about the urgency of supporting them. He can also get Bo neutered, as a reminder of the importance of spay and neuter as a way to combat pet overpopulation. And, at the end of the day, he can actively support policies that crack down on puppy mills, eradicate Class B dealers, enforce laws against dogfighting, promote regulations to ensure safe food for our companion animals, and much more.