Presidents, puppies and taking responsibility
Although the Obamas have not yet chosen that puppy for their girls, Joe Biden has a new German shepherd (h/t to JJ at unrepentantoldhippie via Huffpost). I was glad to know that the vice-president-elect has experience with German shepherds, because in my experience they have powerful qualities that can become liabilities with the wrong owner. They have that special combination of impressive size, strength, sensitivity and intelligence. As a vet, I have consistently found them to be, um…how I should I put this? – not the easiest dogs to deal with in clinical situations. (The fact that I was taken down by my neighbour’s German shepherd, King, when I was 8 has absolutely nothing to do with my lingering nervousness around shepherds, I swear.)
Ever since I heard that the Obamas were looking for a puppy, I had been thinking about the various options, based on my experience as a vet with a general, non-canine-expert experience with a wide variety of breeds, the fact that my kids are the same age as the Obamas, and my own struggle with various animal and dust allergies. Lately, I can’t help thinking that if I had to make a recommendation, I would point them toward a rescue dog. But not just any shelter “mutt” as Obama candidly mentioned – though of course mutts make wonderful companions and are a great alternative to popular breeds. For the Obamas, I would suggest a greyhound rescue.
Admittedly, I don’t see greyhounds very often in the clinic where I work – only twice so far in fact. The most recent was just a few weeks ago, when a client came in with Daisy, a greyhound he had rescued from Arizona the year before. She was in excellent health; she only had a small but painful superficial wound on her hind leg. Contrary to many dogs, when Daisy was put on the table, she put on a very brave face and let me do what I had to do to allow the wound to heal as quickly as possible. She did not pull her leg away or turn her head toward me to see if she could intimidate me into leaving her alone, instead she only flinched slightly when I examined the wound and applied a gentle antiseptic, noting that she had the typical thin, delicate skin of the breed. Her owner had only praise for her, and I could see why. Not only had she easily adapted to a new home at the age of 4, but she had quickly become the moral support of her new companion, a bossy 12-year-old Shih-Tzu, who now refused to leave the house without Daisy in tow.
My positive impression of the greyhound temperament has been reinforced by the research I’ve done since. Descriptors abound with terms such as “sweet” “gentle” “affectionate” “loyal” and “quiet couch potato”. Granted, the vast majority of greyhounds are not adopted as puppies, because they are specifically bred for sprint racing. Barring injury, their careers usually last between 2 and 5 years, which means they are often available for adoption between the ages of 2 and 5; more rarely, puppies or adolescents can be adopted due to injury or physical unsuitability for racing. Essentially, as with horse racing, when an animal is no longer profitable to the owner, it must be “dealt with”. In the 1980s, some dedicated dog lovers became aware of this sad business, and initiated projects to adopt spent greyhounds into homes. This has led to a rather predictable conundrum: some greyhound adopters remain viscerally opposed to greyhound racing, while others have decided to remain neutral, to avoid driving away the very people who provide them with animals to adopt out…
With the current economic downturn meaning less free-flowing cash, I’m wondering if the demand for homes for greyhounds will suddenly go up, or if this has already happened. It’s important to remember that animals will be the ones who will most suffer from any economic crisis, because they are at the bottom of the chain of concern. Rescues of all kinds will be needed in the coming months and years.
This, to my mind, is where a greyhound for the Obamas would fit in. His looming role as Rescuer-in-Chief needs a mascot: a suitably “vetted” greyhound, with its working-class background, gentle disposition, and short, (hopefully) hypoallergenic coat would make a perfect addition to a household where two young girls would have a beautiful and gentle dog to keep them company as they all adjust together to a new environment. And as we all adjust to a new economy – one that will hopefully bring out our best instincts of rescue, care and concern for people and animals whose livelihoods are all too easily exploitable, and ultimately expendable in a capitalist economy.
Although I am no expert in greyhound health and longevity, I do wish to point out that nearly every breed of dog has its characteristic problems. Greyhounds may not have a typical disease profile that results from intensive inbreeding exacerbated by sudden popularity, but concerns have been raised about a possible increased likelihood of developing osteosarcoma. While I never like to see any breed of dog suddenly become popular, it would be nice to shed some light on this business of raising dogs for gambling, only to see them discarded when they are no longer profitable.