11.06.08

Puppygate

PETA should quit putting pressure on the Obama kids to pick an abandoned dog from a rescue shelter.

PETA and animal rights groups should quit putting pressure on the Obama kids to pick an abandoned dog from a rescue shelter and let them get whatever they want.

In a day of global good feeling about Obama's election, I suffered a moment of anger yesterday when I heard that his daughters would be getting a "rescue dog" rather than patronizing a "puppy mill" after animal rights groups put pressure on the group. Now the Today Show has taken up the cause and begun canvassing animal shelters to find the girls their new pet.

Part of my response stems from an outrage that has simmered over the years as I’ve read reports, many from the UK, about animal rights activists disrupting medical research and threatening doctors. I disagree with both their priorities and their tactics.

But a big part of my reaction was specifically about little girls and their puppies. When I asked my daughter, then 8, how she felt about moving to Paris several years ago, she replied, without hesitation, "do we get a dog?" For her, no change and no challenge were too great if that was the payoff. (And of course I said yes).

So when Obama described a similar conversation about running for president with his own girls, it rang absolutely true to me. And my memory of Sophie with her new puppy—a long-haired dachsund with a francy French pedigree—was occasionally at the back of my mind when I rooted for an Obama victory.

I feel silly even having to point out that a puppy is a wonderful thing—nothing will ever be cuter, more cuddley or more gratifiying as a playmate and an object of affection.

But there is also a less Hallmarky argument for the girls getting the dog of their choice, freshly weaned. It is not likely that the Obamas would buy from a sleazy puppy mill. And legitimate dog breeders—plus all the ancillary enterprises that support them for dog shows and supplies—surely exemplify the small businesses that were extolled throughout this campaign. Buying a purebred puppy is the type of discretionary spending that has probably fallen off in recent months and could use a boost.

It’s also true that a rescue dog, unless it is a newborn, sometimes comes with emotional scars and behavorial problems that are difficult to discern and hard to manage. I know that, too, from personal experience—a friend in Paris whose perfectly lovely shelter lab lunges viciously at 4-6 year olds, a neighbor’s shelter golden that has put two local dogs, including mine, in the hospital.

I absolutely believe in rescuing abandoned dogs, but I think it should be done by people with experience and forebearance. Perhaps the members of PETA who are putting pressure on the Obamas could each committ to adopting a dog in honor of the new administration.

In the meantime, Malia and Sasha should be free to choose the labradoodle of their dreams and have the full puppy experience. The whole family earned it.

Lee Aitken is an editor and writer who has worked at Time, Inc. The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, and The International Tribune, among others. She lives in Washington DC with her daughter and an aging dachsund.