Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An unfortunate choice

This was posted in our local paper today, the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Obamas' dog choice draws fire in Colorado

April 13, 2009 - 7:23PM
Some folks think diddly of Bo.

After months of anticipation, activists in the Colorado animal rescue community are ticked by the Obamas' choice for first pet, and Portuguese water dog fans are worried about the implications for the breed they love.

"The bottom line is it is not a rescue dog," said Theresa Strader, founder of National Mill Dog Rescue, based in Colorado Springs. "This is very disappointing."

The Obamas said during the election that they wanted to adopt a shelter dog. But Bo, a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog, is from a top breeder in Texas who provides animals to Sen. Ted Kennedy, among others.

Others fret about the "porties" new celebrity. Call it the "101 Dalmatians" syndrome. When a breed becomes the hot new thing it can set off a cycle of hasty adoptions, extra breeding to satisfy demand and, finally, a flood of abandoned animals.

The adopters don't start off as Cruella De Vil, but the animals still suffer.

"Guess what we're going to be rescuing hundreds of in about two years?" Strader said. "The Portuguese water dog is a great breed, and this is going to be a shame."

Bea Jennings, spokeswoman for the Colorado Portuguese Water Dog Club, shares that concern.

"I think we sort of liked having the best-kept secret," Jennings said. "It is a big scare because we have been really careful about this breed, and of course we're concerned there will be puppy mills and people will go on the Internet to buy dogs without knowing the right questions to ask."

The Portuguese water dog seems especially vulnerable because it is a relatively rare dog - the breed almost went extinct in the 1970s, Jennings said - that can fetch more than $1,500 for a puppy. In 1998, the breed ranked 82nd in popularity, according to American Kennel Club registration statistics. A decade later they were ranked 62nd.

Low supply and sudden demand may be an irresistible business opportunity for backyard breeders or puppy mill operators. Yet, because of the thin gene pool it is vital to find a reputable breeder to avoid problems endemic to the breed.

The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America lists only four approved breeders in Colorado and, of them, Spyglass kennel in Highlands Ranch has the only puppies available in the state right now.

Scott Henley, owner of Spyglass, said he has one puppy left from a litter born on Inauguration Day.

"We are starting to get more calls from people who are really not familiar with the breed," Henley said. "It will probably pass very quickly, and these dogs are definitely not for everybody. They need exercise and training and exercise and grooming.

"The Obamas better be careful or else Bo will end up running the White House."

What Bo won't do is spur tons of rescue adoptions, because there aren't many porties out there for the taking.

Petfinder.com has seen searches for the breed increase dramatically, said Kim Saunders, vice president of shelter outreach for Petfinder.com, the largest online database of rescue animals. But the site lists only 14 Portuguese water dogs up for rescue nationwide, and the closest animal to Colorado Springs is in Texas.

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