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.

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9 Comments on “Presidents, puppies and taking responsibility”


  1. Love your new blog, BN, which has been added to my “subscribed” list.

    Have a particular pet peeve, which this tweaked:

    “animals will be the ones who will most suffer from any economic crisis, because they are at the bottom of the chain of concern.”

    There are an uncommon number of people who live at the bottom of the food chain, including the homeless, who have animal companions. This is particularly so for people who live alone. Of those who are homeless, many are in that condition precisely because landlords and shelters won’t permit pets in their buildings. In BC, where vacancy rates are already below 1%, 99 out of 100 landlords have no-pets clauses in their leases.

    People for whom their animal companions mean the difference between life and death – literally, companionship or suicide -, are left no choice. It’s either be housed or be deprived of the one living thing which helps them maintain their humanity.

    I’ve two cats. They’ve kept me alive these past eight years. I’ve been eligible for subsidized housing all that time. But instead, because none of the subsidized housing in this province allows pets, more and more of my $8,000 income is going to pay the rent. Every year, the rent goes up while my income remains the same. There will come a time when my cats and I will be homeless because, at this point, am already paying 70% of my income on rent for this bachelor apt.

    Whenever I raise this point with people, the property owners typically insist on their property rights. How can they not see that what’s really at issue is basic human rights; the right, in this case, to do whatever one needs to preserve one’s life? Two decades ago, Ontario saw the light, as have other provinces. Not BC, not Alberta.

    Do you have an opinion on this issue?

  2. deBeauxOs Says:

    This issue is fraught with contention. My parents lived in a non-profit, co-op housing complex for people over 55, combining heritage row housing and a newly-constructed low-rise appartment building. The co-op was managed by a board of directors to which residents were elected. One of the conditions of living in the co-op was to provide 5 hours of volunteer work per month.

    Over the years, a number of irresponsible individuals allowed their animal companions to cause damage to their units. The cumulative costs of repairing drywall, sanding floors, replacing carpets, etc. resulted in increased monthly charges for all residents. Finally at a stormy AGM, a by-law was passed; new member residents could not bring their animal companions when they moved in; long-time residents could keep theirs but not accept any new ones into their homes. It was a sad situation; financial concerns won out over humane considerations.

    It is terrible that many are condemned to live without animal companions because of the inability of a few to care responsibly for theirs.

  3. brebis noire Says:

    I’m very sorry Chrystal Ocean and deBeauxOs, for taking so long to respond. I hear you Chrystal – even before I started working as a vet (when I was a student, in fact), I quickly came up against this issue. Some people think that only people who can “afford it” should be “allowed” to have animals. What that doesn’t take into account is a basic human need – for companionship, and the need to take care of someone else, even if that “someone else” is another species. I have come to understand this as a basic human need, though perhaps not felt as acutely by everyone, or in the the same way.
    On the other hand, as deBeauxOs pointed out, people who don’t pick up after their animals, or who allow them to soil and damage things is also an issue. My parents live in a condo as well, and luckily for them, the pet owners outnumber the non-pet owners, so they avoided having a motion passed that would ban pets. It could easily have happened, however. I think there is some kind of a consensus as to the number of pets allowed, however.

    I think those kinds of limits are probably the only way to get around it. Limits on the number of animals allowed according to space are a good compromise for people and even the animals themselves (animals become stressed when the population is too dense, and cleanups have to be done more often), and to ensure the integrity of the property. I also think that rules about having animals spayed or neutered might be helpful, as this avoids many of the damage-causing behaviours. However, an all-out ban on animals is unreasonable, and even cruel, in cases where people have no other rental options. I think that as more and more people own pets, there will be more understanding on the part of property owners.

  4. mouthyorange Says:

    I’d like to add a hopeful note to go with your comment, brebis noire.

    For about 15 years, I’ve taken my very large dog on road trips. (I’ve had more than one dog during that time, but only one at a time, just for the record.) I am usually able to find a motel somewhere that allows dogs, even big ones. When we expressed our appreciation to one Canadian motel owner, he said that in his experience it’s not the animals who have parties and trash the rooms and destroy things — it’s people. He said that people have cost him far more in repairs than anyone’s dog ever did.

    Then again, my experience has been mainly in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. And a few states.

  5. brebis noire Says:

    mouthyorange, I’ve never travelled with animals, but I’m always intrigued by people who do (I can’t help smiling when I see dogs and cats going through airport security – I wouldn’t put my cats throught that, but never say never, eh).
    I’ve travelled with kids, and as far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t be any more difficult – in fact I bet it’s easier – to travel with a large dog than with a small child. A dog shouldn’t make any more mess or noise or cause more trouble than a child. 🙂

    As with children, it’s the responsible adult’s behaviour and competence that makes all the difference.

  6. mouthyorange Says:

    I second your comment that it’s the responsible adult’s behaviour and competence that makes all the difference.

    Speaking of travelling with animals, you may appreciate this image. When my first Bouvier’s breeder and her husband and young son moved from Nova Scotia to Ontario, they loaded all six of her adult Bouvs into their van, including my pup-to-be’s pregnant mom. It was over twenty years ago and it was harder then to find motels in these parts that would take pets. So they pulled up to a motel in the evening, signed in, said nothing about the dogs, and then she and her husband took turns running back and forth in the dark sneaking the dogs one or two at a time from the van into their motel room. The next morning they got up before dawn and hustled the dogs out to the van again, and left. It seems that no one ever knew the difference. And somehow, nothing started the dogs barking during the night!

  7. mouthyorange Says:

    Me again —

    I’m so looking forward to your next post!

  8. brebisnoire Says:

    thanks mouthyorange – me too! My internet connection where I’m visiting comes in and out, and I’m in a holidays brain fog. I can think, but can’t seem to write.

  9. mouthyorange Says:

    That’s cool, bn — I think your blogs will be worth waiting for.


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