Monday, April 13, 2009

The Bigger Question about Bo

Obama-mania continues this week, with the latest topic of obsession being over Bo, the First Family's new six-month old Portugese water dog. While some in the animal welfare community applaud the adoption of a "re-homed" dog from a reputable breeder, other massively criticize it, and feel "betrayed" that the family did not go the Rescue Route.

I find it both laughable and frustrating that this is the focal point-- where the dog came from--, and that these major entities are not instead using this media blitz to focus on what a dog needs in life, and how the First Family can set an example for the rest of humanity on the proper care for a dog.

Many friends and colleagues have asked my opinion on the Obama dog, even before Bo came to be, and here is how I feel. I offer up my opinion as nothing more than a dog-mom (of one rescue, and one breeder-dog). How a dog comes to be with a family is far less important than how a family cares for and tends to a dog's needs over the course of his or her life. A responsible family will do everything within their means to make sure that dog has a high-quality of life and does not end up in a shelter or rescue. This opinion I hold that applies universally, not just to the Obamas.

In fact, by setting a good example for America on proper care for a dog, the President and his daughters can do more for the larger world of rescue pets than adopting just one shelter dog. Those of us that work and volunteer in rescue know all to well the realities that bring a dog into a shelter, or cause a dog to need to be re-homed, the latest being the economic crunch that makes pet care more of a luxury than a necessity. But poor knowledge about good training, pet health leads age-old, way outdated stereotypes to persist when more modern wisdom is available.

Instead of spending any more valuable air time on Bo's family tree, here are 10 other topics that can really help the dogs of America.

1- Consider feeding a raw diet when evaluating food options. It might sound rogue, weird, or crazy, but it is a very real option that is much healthier for the average dog. After all, would YOU want to eat the equivalent of dried cereal every day, twice a day, for your entire life?

2- Use positive training techniques!!! This is the best way to build a working relationship and strong bond with your dog.

3- Make sure that dog has PLENTY of opportunities for exercise, including with other dogs. Two walks a day just don't cut it, especially for a working dog that was bred for a specific intent (like a Water Dog).

4- Treat your dog as a member of your family-- not as a possession you own. A dog is not an iPod, a piece of clothing, a car, or a piece of decor. It is a living, breathing being that thinks, shows emotion, and can express itself.

5- Keep your dog at the right weight. Obesity is a silent killer.

6- Keep your dog's mind stimulated. Their brains need activity as well--- Toys are a dog's equivalent of Nintendo DX and Wii.

7- Use positive training techniques!!! (Did I say that twice-- that is because it is important). Choke chains, shock collars, and other corrective methods can severely hurt a dog physically and emotionally, and make the problem worse than what it is. Dog training has come a long way, and we don't need to rely upon those methods.

8- Expose your dog to all sorts of sights, sounds, people, and places, building positive association with each (hmm, there it is again, kinda).

9- Hire an expert trainer. Dog training is not a "DIY." Get a professional trainer who can help you speak dog, because it's a language that is a whole lot different from English!

10- Don't ignore small problems, thinking they will go away. Address the problem properly when it presents itself, whether it be excessive barking, pulling on a leash, or even an allergic itch. So often a small complication is let to progress to a large problem, forcing a family to make a real tough decision.

Many hard-core policy wonks are probably scratching their head over "Bo-Gate" right now, thinking that there are no fewer than a bazillion more critical issues facing this country. But see, this isn't just about a dog-- this really should be about being a better human.

After all that, I really need my weekly puppy-fix, and there is a little Rat Terrier standing on my shoulder (really, not kidding).

That's a woof for now!