Champ and Major Biden are soon to be the First Dogs of the U.S.A. I could not be happier to see these German shepherds take up residence in the White House. There’s a void to fill: President Trump was the first president in more than 100 years not to own a pet. And these guys are truly a beautiful duo.
One of my own dogs is one quarter German shepherd, so I have a soft spot for the breed. I like to believe it’s that 25 per cent of Teddy Lennox’s genetic make-up that has him sleeping at our front door every night and keeping guard for our family. He only indulges the Labrador retriever in his DNA after daybreak ― when he’s done his protection duties and ready to nose open my bedroom door for morning snuggles.
I know I’m not alone in my excitement over Champ and Major’s imminent change of address, but I just hope people are not going to be jumping on the German shepherd bandwagon at once, because the last thing we want is to inadvertently support puppy mills and irresponsible breeding practices.
Historically, the presidential family’s choice of dog has provoked a spike in popularity for that breed. After The Obamas got their two Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny, the once near-extinct breed rose in popularity, becoming the 49th most popular dog breed in the U.S.A. by 2019.
And after Bill Clinton got his chocolate lab, Buddy ― speculated to be a wholesome decoy to avert attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal ― the chocolate lab, a breed that used to be culled at birth, rose in popularity.
One of the main problems with such a sudden spike in popularity for any purebred dog is that it can lead to overbreeding or inbreeding to meet demand, which inevitably increases the risk of health problems and can shorten a dog’s lifespan.
So while German shepherds are known for wonderful qualities such as: intelligence, loyalty and athleticism, they are also becoming more and more prone to health issues such as joint, autoimmune, heart and eye diseases.
Dr. Dan O’Neill, a British researcher and the lead author of this study from the Royal Veterinary College, concluded that German shepherds have the second highest number of health issues exacerbated by breeding, just behind the Great Dane.
So if you’re feeling inspired by the Bidens’ choice of dog breed, bear in mind that you’re probably not the only one right now. Logically, as demand increases so too will the intensive breeding of German shepherds, by irresponsible breeders and puppy mills.
Maybe there’s a different way to nod to the new White House family dogs: Knowing that the youngest, Major, is the first ever rescue dog to upgrade from shelter digs to the White House, here’s another idea: Why not honour him by giving another rescue dog a loving home?
Having rescued three out of four of my dogs and fostered several more, I can’t speak highly enough of the furry family members that have come into our lives this way.
Here are a few reasons why I’d choose a rescue dog again:
1. Since the dogs we adopted were adults, they had already revealed their character. Each came with detailed information about their qualities, quirks and areas that needed work.
2. Dogs love their human companions, and when they’re abandoned, they can become depressed, listless and unable to function. Nobody wants that. When you give a rescue dog a new family to love, they return that love multiplied. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing a dejected dog get the wag back in their tail.
3. Two of our rescue dogs came from high-kill shelters and would have been euthanized if nobody had taken them. They have both been phenomenal pets, who never saw a lap they didn’t like. I’m so glad their lives weren’t unnecessarily cut short.
4. Adopting a dog is typically less pricey. You’ll still pay a fee that covers things like shots, neutering, any medical care required and some of the costs of running a rescue, but bear in mind that a purebred dog can cost as much as four or five thousand dollars, especially right now with pandemic-puppy price gouging.
5. My rescue dogs had clearly been pets before. They didn’t need to be potty trained and they slept through the night from day one. Of course, some dogs from rescues will need extra patience and training, depending on their past circumstances ― and they’re so worth the effort ― but if, like me, you have enough on your plate, there are a lot of well-behaved dogs awaiting a new family that found themselves homeless because of a death or serious illness in their last family, a new baby, a move or a divorce, and they’re fully ready to dive into family life.
6. A dog is a dog is a dog. Whether your pup is physically a perfect specimen of its breed or a funny-looking mix of who-knows-what?, you’re going to come to cherish it, above all, for being a sweet and loving furry family member.
I mean, look at that face!
WATCH: It’s time to put a dog back in the White House: