Pet Tales: Bo backlash brings undeserved contempt for breeders

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President Barack Obama delivered on a campaign promise made to his daughters, and now there's a puppy in the White House. You'd think dog lovers would be happy for Malia and Sasha. But a mean-spirited backlash has erupted because Bo is a purebred Portuguese water dog, not a mutt, and he did not come from a shelter.

There are many people who believe that no one should breed any dogs until all of the dogs in shelters and pounds are placed in good homes. Some of these people are posting snarky comments and criticisms of the Obamas and Bo's breeders on blogs, e-mail lists and comments that run at the bottom of online newspaper stories.

Some of these people are cheering and gloating in response to recent reports that the breeder who sold a purebred German shepherd puppy to Vice President Joe Biden's family is getting threats by e-mail and telephone. That's just plain wrong.

In my book, everyone associated with 6-month-old Bo has done the right thing.

The Obama family did their homework, as suggested by all the "experts." They looked for a dog that would be a good "fit" for their family. Mixed-breed dogs were ruled out early on because Malia has allergies. There is no such thing as a hypo-allergenic dog, but some allergy sufferers can tolerate purebreds that have hair rather than fur. Breeds with hair include poodles, Portuguese water dogs, bichon frise and many of the terriers.

Some of the Bo-bashers are bugged because the first family's puppy comes from dogs bred to compete in shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club. His breeder, Julie Parker of Erie, works as an AKC-registered handler, which means she's paid to handle people's dogs in the show ring. She's what dog show people call a "hobby breeder," which means she does not make money breeding dogs.

Bo's father is Watson, a family pet who lives in Beaver County. He was bred by Ms. Parker, and two or three times a year he goes to Erie to be bred. Hobby breeders often sell dogs with a provision that they can use the dog in their breeding program.

Bo's mom is Penny, owned by Art and Martha Stern -- "longtime breeders who live near Dallas," according to a release on the AKC Web site. Penny was sent to Erie for the breeding, then returned to Texas where the puppies were born, raised and sold by the Sterns.

Responsible breeders generally have long waiting lists of people who want to buy their dogs. Such breeders have good track records for producing healthy puppies with good temperaments. Responsible breeders screen prospective buyers.

But one of the puppies was returned to the Texas breeder because the buyer's older Portuguese water dog did not get along with the puppy. Those people could have taken the puppy to a shelter, but that would have violated the contract they signed when they bought him. Responsible breeders require buyers to return the dog to them if things don't work out.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, who owns multiple Portuguese water dogs, had purchased a puppy from that litter. He heard about the returned puppy and gave him, as a gift, to the Obama family.

If Bo had spent days or weeks in a shelter, would the nasty backlash have been averted? Responsible breeders keep dogs out of shelters. They're involved in the purebred rescue network. At www.akc.org, you can see a complete list of breed rescue organizations. In some rescue groups, including Labrador retrievers and Dalmatians, there is an endless supply of dogs needing new homes. That's not the case with all breeds.

Want to give a second chance to a Portuguese water dog? The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America has always had a waiting list of good-hearted people who want to adopt. The list keeps getting longer, thanks to the publicity about Bo.

"We take in and place five to 10 dogs a year, and we never get puppies," said Mary Harkings of Coopersburg, Lehigh County, rescue coordinator for the national club.

Portuguese water dogs seldom end up in a shelter, but if the club finds out about it, members will pay the shelter adoption fee, put the dog in a foster home and place it with a carefully screened adopter. Just last week, they took a 10-year-old female out of a shelter.

"She'll have a home soon," Ms. Harkings said. "We're interviewing a family that will adopt her if she gets along with their 11-year-old Portuguese water dog."

There are many wonderful dogs -- and cats -- in shelters. They will make wonderful pets, if matched with the right people. Animal lovers should seriously consider adopting from a shelter. But no one should be criticized or, heaven forbid, threatened, for buying a dog or a puppy from a responsible breeder.

"Large commercial breeders," called puppy mills in some circles, are not responsible breeders. For starters, they will sell to anyone who is willing to pay their price.

We all have the right to choose the dog that we want. People who get what they want and need are more likely to love and care for that dog every day of its life.

People who get the right dog are less likely to dump that dog in a shelter, pound or rescue organization. And that would make those people part of the solution, not part of the problem.


Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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