Barack Obama Goes to the Dogs

According to an AP-Yahoo News poll, pet owners favor John McCain over Barack Obama 42 percent to 37 percent, with dog owners in particular rooting for McCain.

But does it really matter whether a president or a presidential candidate has a dog? And should the Obama family get a dog?

To hear the Senator's wife Michelle tell it, his two young daughters think he should, despite the girls' allergies. And the American Kennel Club is all set to recommend a "hypoallergenic" purebred (memo: no such thing exists) to the Obama family. High on the AKC's list is the poodle.

Meanwhile, shelter-animal advocates -- let's call them mutt mavens -- are hoping the biracial senator will honor his mixed heritage by adopting a mixed-breed dog and, following the lead of his most famous supporter Oprah Winfrey, going to an animal shelter to do it.

As the virtual canine contingent harnesses "Puppy Power" on behalf of its pet politico, an online retailer hawks bumper stickers with the slogan "Wag More Bark Less," and North Shore Animal League America has actor Richard Belzer, in Uncle Sam costume, "Calling all Demo-Cats and Republi-canines ... We want YOU -- to adopt," we are lulled into believing that pets, especially dogs, are synonymous with patriotism.

But when is it NOT patriotic to keep a pet? When you just don't have the time or inclination to care for one.

"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." This endlessly quotable quote was first stated (probably with a sarcastic sneer) by one of America's most famous dog-haters, Harry S. Truman, who, when presented with a sweet Cocker Spaniel named Feller by a dog-breeding constituent, made the dog's life miserable until the president's physician kindly offered to adopt the spaniel. Truman's wisecrack has been relentlessly taken out of context: he was making a statement not about dogs but about capital friends (or the lack thereof) in D.C.

Yet the suggestion, in this election year, is that without a dog one is something other than American. I live with six rescued dogs; does that make me a super-patriot? My harsh critics would say the dog population at my place makes me something other than normal.

Frankly, Senator Obama has enough on his plate without adding a dog to the mix, especially if he and his wife have never had one before. Dog ownership is a project that requires a commitment equal to the lifespan and loyalty of the dog. A dog should be a beloved companion, not a political accessory.

Of course, a candidate who's intimate with dogs, and has been for many years, is likely to have certain of his or her priorities in order. But this doesn't mean all dog lovers should automatically endorse McCain just because he happens to have a bunch of pets, including two dogs.