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Obama Should Strike a Blow for Mutt Mavens and Get a Shelter Dog

Please, Mr. President, make the ulti-mutt statement in support of the underdog.

by
Julia Szabo

Bio

January 31, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Here’s why it’s politically unwise for Obama to let down the mutt contingent. Back in July, an AP-Yahoo News poll revealed that pet owners were favoring McCain (who owns two dogs) over Obama (who’s never owned one) 42 percent to 37 percent, with dog owners in particular rooting for the Republican. And yet, by election night, dog lovers came out in force to support the dogless candidate, thanks largely to the tireless efforts of animal protection organizations — mutt mavens with strength in numbers — in reminding the public of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s appalling record on wildlife issues, which was driven home by shocking YouTube videos. Especially disturbing was Palin’s proud support of aerial hunting of the wolf, ancestor of all dogs.

The contrast was pretty dramatic: While the Obamas chatted about their daughters’ dog obsession, effectively glad-pawing the animal-loving public, Palin was offering hunters $150 for every wolf’s forepaw they could bag, in a most unsporting incarnation of the hunt. It’s not an overstatement to say that mutt mavens deserve some of the credit for Obama’s historic win; to paraphrase a paw-pular slogan spotted on doggie bandannas in Denver during the Democratic National Convention, they helped “BAR(ac)K the vote.”

The straight poop may come as a shock to those who thought they knew a bit about dogs: There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic K9. I hate to contradict the president I voted for, but the truth is that the first dog does not have to be a so-called “hypoallergenic” breed. Just ask dog-allergic owners of “hypoallergenic” breeds, many of whom get regular allergy shots to support their canine habit. The plain fact is that some simple housekeeping measures — not the choice of breed — are what enable dog-allergic people to breathe easy around a dog. Yes, even a mixed-breed shelter mutt.

“In addition to adopting a dog, adopt a routine so the relationship between your dog and allergic family members is set up for success,” says Dr. Andrew Kaplan of New York’s City Veterinary Care. “Remember, it’s not a dog’s hair but rather the dander, the skin’s glandular secretions and dried saliva that both stick to the hair and are automatically jettisoned into the air and onto home furnishings, that are the cause of allergies people have to dogs.”

Here’s important news for the first family, or any family with an allergic child lobbying for a pet: You can adopt a populist shelter mutt and still breathe easy, yes you can. Even so-called “hypoallergenic” breeds have skin, and when an animal’s skin becomes dry, it releases even more dander. Regardless of what breed or mix a dog may be, keeping Spot’s skin soft is key to a smooth, successful transition from dogless home to animal house. Supplement the dog’s diet every day with a few drops of fish oil, olive oil, or flaxseed oil; this moisturizes a dog’s ‘dermis from the inside.

Combing and brushing the first dog outside the executive mansion will provide great bonding time for the first daughters and their new pet, with these added benefits: “The Obamas can significantly decrease the amount of animal allergens in their home by grooming their dog regularly to help remove dead hair and dander; my favorite product for this is Allerpet,”  Kaplan adds.

To keep skin moisturized externally, dogs living with allergic kids should be groomed frequently and bathed with a Sodium Laurel Sulfate-free, Paraben-free, emollient shampoo that won’t dry out their skin further, as most chemically-preserved dog shampoos will. An excellent brand for allergic households is TheraNeem Pet Shampoo, which is safe for everyday use. The fringe benefit of frequent dog-bathing for the allergic child: It also removes other environmental allergens that could trigger an allergic reaction, such as pollen and dust mites, that cling to a dog’s coat and paw-pads.

This is the president’s residence we’re talking about, and White Housekeepers already know their way around the best cleaning technology on the planet, but an allergic first child poses a special challenge that requires the right tools. Offers Kaplan: “Use an environmentally safe HEPA air filter — my favorite is BlueAir — paying attention to the square footage limits for each unit, and vacuum with an allergy vacuum cleaner — my favorite is the Dyson DC17 — focusing on the area around your dog’s bedding, which should be washed regularly.” Here’s another hint: Rugs and carpeting are magnets for dander and mites. Even in the Oval Office. These expert prescriptions will remove microscopic traces of irritating dander from the Obama dog, plus pet particles lingering from previous administrations.

Remind an allergic child to wash her hands, and avoid touching her face, after touching the dog. After play sessions, kids can combine hand-wiping with paw-wiping by using CleanWell hand-sanitizer wipes to decontaminate their mutt’s mitts as well as their own. (Incidentally, CleanWell’s botanical germicide, Ingenium, a key ingredient of which is Thyme, was formulated for the company founder’s son Connor, who was born with a compromised immune system; the boy, now ten, lives happily with his family’s Pug — a breed that, if not properly hydrated, sheds copiously.)

Still, no dog, no matter how clean, should sleep in the allergic child’s bedroom. To keep allergens from irritating Malia while she sleeps, so she can recover in time for tomorrow’s playtime with Spot, the canine-in-chief should be kept out of her room at all times — s/he can stay with Sasha instead.

OK, all this does require extra work — but then, Barack Obama already knew life in the animal house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue wasn’t going to be easy. So please, Mr. President, make the ulti-mutt statement in support of the underdog. Be a black-dog Democrat. Adopt a Yes We Can-ine from an animal shelter. Mutts do matter, because they have the audacity of hope — just like you.

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Journalist and author Julia Szabo wrote the Pets column for the Sunday New York Post, for 11 years and now pens the "Living With Dogs" column for Dogster.com. Follow her on Twitter @PetReporter1. Photo credit: Daniel Reichert
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