Animals & Money: The All-American mutt

The Obama family has officially announced that they'll be getting an all-American mutt -- or at least a rescue dog. After Barack Obama and his wife Michelle made a public promise to their daughters to get a dog after the elections, animal groups got really excited. Since the Obamas don't have pets now, it seemed likely they could be swayed into one of the warring dog camps: those who buy purebreds and those who rescue mutts (and also purebreds) from shelters.

The American Kennel Club launched an online poll asking which breed they should purchase. More than 42,000 people voted and they chose the poodle, with the wheaten terrier coming in second. The AKC had narrowed the field down to breeds that don't cause allergies because one of the Obama girls is allergic to dogs. (And I think the poodle won because the other breeds were either small, creepy or both (like the Chinese Crested, which is mostly bald.)

Meanwhile, 50,000 animal lovers signed a petition from the Best Friends Animal Network, urging the Obamas to adopt a shelter dog. That doesn't necessarily mean they're getting a mutt. According to the Humane Society of the United States, about one-quarter of dogs in shelters are purebreds.
How did all these expensive dogs end up being given away? Usually it's a behavioral issue. People spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy the right look of a dog. But they're so focused on finding a dog that fits a mental image, they don't consider the dog's needs for training, discipline, exercise and attention.

The thousands of people who buy a purebred dog, then dump it at a shelter must have figure that if they spend more, they'll get a better dog. They don't seem to realize that breeding only takes you so far. To have a great dog, you have to have a great relationship with your dog. You can't just buy a great dog -- not for any price. (And anyway, the real price you pay for having a dog is not the price tag or even the vet bills, but the high cost of missing them when they're gone.)

On the personal finance front, I would hope people could start spending less on dog breeding when they get an excellent, smart, pretty dog from a shelter. It's the equivalent of buying generic drugs: same quality, lower price, the only thing missing is a name brand. But in the dog's case it's a better bargain because you save a dog's life.

About half the six to eight million dogs that get dropped off at shelters every year get euthanized. The breeders I'm sure produce some wonderful dogs for great families -- but they also contribute to there being too many dogs and cats to ever find good homes.

There are some reports the Obamas are considering a Golden-doddle -- a mix of a golden retriever and a poodle. I think that would be a great choice. A trainer once told me she thinks every new dog owner should just get a golden, they're so affable. And poodles don't shed and are smart and athletic. If we've got to have a trendy breed, I'd love it to be a golden-doodle. Imagine if they replaced pit bulls as the urban dog.

The goldens originally come from Scotland. Poodles are ancient breeds that come from Germany, France or Russia. Since so many breeds started long ago in Europe and were bred for highly specialized purposes we no longer need, many consider the most all-American breed the non-bred mutt.

I'd love it if politicians started adopting dogs--whether they're doing it cynically or not. Dogs do soften an image and make people more accessible. I don't agree with President Bush on much, but I do consider him a good dog person. And John McCain has 24 pets (though 13 are fish) and he came out on top 42%-37% of a AP-Yahoo! poll of 2,000 pet owners.

Not that I needed anything else to make me think Vladamir Putin is a creep, but today's news that he got a rare Ussuri tiger cub for his birthday certainly didn't improve my opinion. There's only about 400 of this species left and Putin has gone on flashy press junkets flaunting his protection efforts. In the world of people who care about animals, those who have exotics as pets are many, many rungs below dog breeders. Putin said, to his credit, that he'd be sending it somewhere else to live, like a zoo or wildlife preserve.

One of the things that gets people excited about Obama is the hope he'll improve our image around the world. Adopting a dog would only add to that.
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