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Obama?s puppy promises and a question of puppies as good public policy

Posted Nov 10 2008 8:05am

Ain’t it just like a woman to ask for something…only to crush it with her high heel upon receipt?

A week ago I wondered why animals had been so blatantly excluded from the Presidential candidates’ conversation. It wasn’t my most thoughtful post ever, I confess, and now I’ll also have to own up to the fact that I wish I could take some of it back. (And no, it wasn’t just because I have a problem spelling “Barack”).

At issue is the President Elect’s election night promise to take on a puppy on behalf of his two children:

''Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House.''

Sweet.

Of course, I’m gratified to see a President keep his promises. The acceptance speech statement was nothing if not a generous nod to his family’s sacrifices and a symbolic gesture that said: I plan to live up to your expectations by holding up my end of the bargain on all things.

Regardless, the Presidential family is in a bit of a pickle, it would seem. Speaking on Friday at a news conference, Obama answered one reporter’s question on the subject of the Presidential pet:

“We have two criteria that need to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypo-allergenic…”

Another is the issue of the breed:

“…But obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me, so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue in the Obama household.”

Well, you all know my take on the dubious hypoallergenicity of pets (it’s a highly individual immunological response that governs these reactions in humans, so sourcing any one hypoallergenic animal by breed isn’t as easy as it might sound).

Then there’s the issue of whether any “like me” mixed breed would ever be given a chance considering  this “hypoallergenic” requirement (doubtful).

In any case, it’s clear the Obama family is in need of some advice.

To that end, The Miami Herald (my local paper) ran a weekend story on Obama’s most recent puppy promise. In doing so, it offered to reward readers with a chance to have their say:

“E-mail us at pets@MiamiHerald.com with your advice: What kind of dog should the First Family get? Offer suggestions on what a first-time dog owner should know or have on hand when the pup comes home.

Include your name and city as well as your dog's name and breed—and a picture. Keep it tight—150 words or less.

We'll run many of the responses in The Miami Herald later this month, and all of them on MiamiHerald.com, where the Obamas can check them out.”

I’m not so sure I would recommend that the First Family log on to MiamiHerald.com for the ultimate in pet advice (though they might do well to check out my column on the pitfalls of finding purebred hypoallergenic puppies), but I guess it’s a start.

In this case, what really concerns me is the larger question Obama’s promise and puppy search raises: Is a pet a must-have for a President—or for any of us—despite the presence of personal limitations (extensive travel, frequent moves, allergies, time pressures, etc.)?

To me it’s clear that not everyone is pet-worthy, just as not every woman with a set of ovaries is mother material nor is every man with a set of testicles offspring-worthy.

Though our White House is a place where any pet should live—if only to highlight the importance of pets to American family life—I do wonder if promising puppies to children (especially as the Holiday season approaches) is always good public policy.
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