The Obama Effect

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2 min read
i-love-dogs / CC
Portuguese Water Dog
Portuguese Water Dog

Well, Michelle Obama has gone and done it: She ‘fessed up to People magazine that the first family is leaning toward adopting a Portuguese water dog. To give her credit, she stresses that the family plans to adopt the dog from a shelter or rescue group, but we sure do wish that she’d quit fixating so much on the dog’s breed.

Already, the mere mention a few months ago that the Obamas had narrowed their choice to a “Portie” or a Labradoodle has caused a flurry of Google searches for those breeds. I personally know a couple who bought not one but two goldendoodle puppies because anything “doodle” is oh-so-fashionable these days. (This same couple had previously visited an animal shelter and was poised to adopt two homeless mutts until they became wooed by the latest fad, proof of our assertion that breeders kill shelter dogs’ chances of finding homes.)

Admittedly, it probably sets a slightly better example to adopt a Portuguese water dog than it would to pick a Labradoodle or a goldendoodle—those breeds are virtually guaranteed to come from puppy mills.

But Portie enthusiasts with a conscience are not terribly happy about getting a nod from the Obamas. As they and PETA’s Daphna Nachminovitch point out in this Associated Press article, whenever a breed becomes fashionable, puppy mills jump into the game to satisfy the demand of uninformed people. Only later do these folks realize that, oops, Porties would willingly run several marathons and swim across the English Channel—all before breakfast.

I used to dog-sit for a Portie named Riley. He was a sweetie, just as breeders claim, but he was also hyper, to put it mildly. He had boundless energy and was obsessed with water—if he jumped into the river that runs alongside the PETA dog park, it was almost impossible to coax him out. In the car, he bounced Tigger-like from back seat to front, in between bouts of carsickness. He was the ideal dog for, say, Michael Phelps or a professional surfer—not so ideal for a busy family.

What the Obamas (and lots of other people) don’t seem to understand is that you don’t have to pre-select a certain breed and then set out to find a dog who meets that criterion. You can go to your local animal shelter, walk down the rows of cages, and pick out a dog of any old breed (or, better yet, mix of breeds), spend some time with him or her, and discover that, yes, this is the dog for you. It’s kind of a crazy idea, but I’m hoping it just might catch on.

Written by Alisa Mullins

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