Wagging the dog

Every presidential administration has its controversies. For George W. it was WMDs. For Barack Obama, it’s PWDs. That’s right, I’m talking about the hot topic du jour: Bo, the official First Dog, which will now have unscrupulous breeders churning out the lovable little Portuguese puffballs faster than Milk Bones at the Purina factory.

Sure, the country has seen such canine frenzies before, from the Lassie boom of the ’60s to Spud Mackenzie, Tinkerbell and the most recently dethroned must-have dog, the Westminster beagle. But perhaps none has been as exotic or elusive as the Portuguese water dog (no mom, it’s not a “water spaniel”), which basically is a floppier, depom-pomed version of the standard poodle.

And while the selection of breed has drawn oohs and ahhs from adoring fans, others are jeering and sneering at the executive decision not to rescue a dog from the local shelter. Apparently, up until now it’s been acceptable for presidents to select the pick of the purebred litter. In fact, America has seen a long line of designer pups, from the Nixons’ cherished spaniel Checkers, to Clinton’s chocolate lab Buddy and the Carters’ lovable but bumbling Billy (OK, technically not a purebred, but a family pet nonetheless.)

However, for some reason, the Obamas were held to a higher standard, seen as the hopeful champion of the gratefully rescued whatchamadog. They were seen as people who saw the folly in dishing out big bucks for papers when there were plenty of deserving dogs behind bars that cost no more than a license fee. Little did they know when Bo Obama (wonder if they call him “Bobama” for short?) showed up in his cute little lei on the White House doorstep, what a steaming pile they’d walked into.

Shelter dog advocates everywhere decried the decision as elitist and irresponsible. After all, wasn’t it the president’s role to lead by example? And where the hell is Portugal anyway?

In defense of the PWDs, they are dander-free and extremely agreeable animals, perfectly becoming of a head of state’s allergy-prone household. And, despite his hefty price tag on the open market, Bo was a “gift” (a regift if you want to get technical.)

As flimsy as the “gift” excuse is (wonder if they’ll have to claim it on their taxes), I must say I find myself sitting on the proverbial invisible fence on this one. See, over the years, I have been privy to both the paid-through-the-nose and free-for-the-taking types of dog. In fact, I seldom admit this publicly, but my first pet as a child was a toy poodle. Suffice to say, “good breeding” did nothing for this pint-sized Kujo’s demeanor. Unfortunately, it took the sacrifice of part of my brother’s ear to learn to keep all body parts away from her face. Years later, still recovering from post traumatic poodle stress, I was introduced to the beauty of the docile mutt. Mellow, loyal and smart, I swore I’d never go back to the breeder again (even if I could afford it.)

Which isn’t to say Bo, or PWDs in general, aren’t good dogs. In fact, not to brag, but my neighbors have had a PWD long before it became a household word. And I’ll have to admit, I am a little bit jealous of them, mostly because their dog doesn’t bark at the wind, chew on the blinds or ambush the UPS man like mine does. But, aside from that, there’s not an elitist bone in his body. He chews with his mouth open, slobbers on occasion, and poops in public, like any other dog.

Maybe that’s because when you peel away the pedigree and nonshedding coat, all dogs are basically genetically identical. That’s right, Tinkerbell. You may be riding high in your Luis Vuitton, but your chromosomal make-up is 99.9 percent the same as that lowly shnauzadoodlepoo down the street. (Speaking of which, let’s just all be thankful they didn’t get a Portudoodle, OK?) In fact, most of today’s high-end breeds aren’t that far off from their undomesticated, outdoors dwelling, carrion-eating ancestor, the wolf. So stuff that in your Kong and smoke it.

OK, so little Bobo didn’t grow up on the mean streets of the West, traveling in a wild pack and fighting to stay alive. Sure, his “rescue” is a little less heart-warming than that of a downtrodden, hard-scrabble street dog fending for itself in this harsh, uncaring world. And perhaps lovable mutts and their adherents didn’t quite get the high-profile ally they had hoped for.

But, the simple fact that the country has taken time from recessions, Somali pirates and wardrobe malfunctions to discuss the topic is a good start. Even the fact that it is seen as an issue worthy of national debate is a sign of hope for sheltered animals everywhere.

And who knows? The White House lawn is a big place, and the presidential term is still young. Maybe one more lucky dog will still get to have his day after all.

– Missy Votel