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05.06.09

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Silicon Veggie - Elisa Camahort

Silicon Veggie

Obama's Dog and Your Dinner

By Elisa Camahort


I'VE GOTTEN into some spirited discussions lately about the fact that the Obamas got a dog from a breeder, instead of a shelter, as originally promised.

Yes, it was a dog that had been returned to the breeder and then was acquired by Ted Kennedy, who then gifted it to the Obamas. The bottom line is that many people are disappointed they didn't get a shelter dog, and many other people can't understand the fuss.

My decidedly nonmainstream perspective is that this is one small example of the generally cavalier attitude most folks have towards sentient, nonhuman animals, and I can connect dots very clearly between this decision and the decision the vast majority of people make daily: To eat a dinner they know (but try not to know too much) involves suffering.

We all know that shelters euthanize millions of healthy animals every year. People who haven't given a moment's thought to being vegetarian support spay/neuter programs and their local humane societies. It is actually a sign of privilege to be able to consider getting a purebred animal. So it was politically smart for President Obama to say they'd get a shelter dog.

But it was more complicated than anticipated. One of the Obama girls has allergies. Only certain breeds are considered "hypoallergenic" (although it's by no means guaranteed). And often dogs from those breeds don't show up at shelters until they're a bit older, not the "puppy" that was promised. Bottom line: a passel of purebred, hypoallergenic puppies wasn't languishing at the local shelter looking for a large white house to call home.

So because it would have taken more effort, or more patience, the Obamas got a puppy from a breeder. Or were gifted one—because a dog must be had, despite allergies (and despite the fact that one of the most common reasons dogs get dumped at the shelter is because of allergies), and because the dog must be a puppy (despite the fact that many older dogs who would make wonderful family pets languish at shelters, unchosen).

So many people tell me that they'd like to be vegetarian, but that it's hard or takes effort, or gosh-darn it, bacon just tastes so good. They want bacon, no matter where it comes from.

It's easy to do what can be done, instead of what should be done. But what a great national lesson it would have been had the Obamas done the latter. And that's what the Obamas' dog has to do with your dinner.


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