Her YouTube video already has nearly 2 million views. Internet rumors about her “Republican upbringing” are surfacing. And, like any other up-and-coming celebrity, she has an unofficial Facebook page. Sunny Obama, the White House’s new Portuguese Water Dog has made quite the splash in the three days since the announcement of her arrival in the presidential home.
While dog lovers everywhere are surfing the web to see more pictures of the undeniably adorable pup, a significant number of Americans are questioning Sunny’s origins, and asking, “Why not rescue?” The President had once mentioned considering a shelter dog, but acknowledged there would be challenges in finding one to meet his family’s particular needs.
The Obamas chose Bo, their first Portuguese Water Dog, because of the breed’s low-shedding coat. While no dog is truly hypo-allergenic, the curly fur is generally believed to be a better match for people with dog allergies, like the Obamas’ youngest daughter, Malia. Many of us know what it’s like to fall in love with a breed, and there is no reason for them not to bring home another, if they found Bo to be a good fit for their family. Plus, Portuguese Water Dogs aren’t exactly filling the kennels of every shelter in the country, so finding one to rescue may have been a little bit more time-intensive, but it would have been well worth the effort.
In addition to working for a rural animal shelter, I also volunteer with a local Doberman Pinscher Rescue. If someone from the White House called me and told me that the POTUS was looking for a Doberman, I would scour the shelters and go out of my way to connect with Doberman rescuers around the country to find the perfect match for the Obama family. This would be a chance for “my breed” to be an ambassador for Dobermans everywhere, as well as a cherished — and likely very spoiled — family pet. I can only imagine that rescuers of Portuguese Water Dogs would do the same.
Some folks are saying, “It’s just a family dog. What is the big deal?”
The big deal is when you chose a position of celebrity — whether political or pop culture — you have the chance to influence millions of people with your everyday activities. Most people won’t be signing acts into law any time soon, but owning a pet is something 60 percent of Americans already do, so in some ways this gesture could impact more people (and homeless pets) than many federal laws.
Purebred rescue organizations are a vital part of the solution to pet homelessness. Depending on the region, between 5 and 25 percent of dogs in shelters are purebreds, and breed rescues are often able to pull those dogs to place them in foster, and then adoptive, homes who understand the needs of that specific breed. President Obama’s statement that “a lot of shelter dogs are mutts,” is, of course, true, but the family’s acquisition of two dogs from breeders missed a big opportunity to show the country that purebred dogs can be found in rescue.
The Obamas get kudos for going to a responsible breeder, rather than a puppy mill or pet store, but I hope next time, they take it one step further and adopt to show Americans that the everyday act of adoption can save lives and complete a family just as easily.