Pending White House dog adoption upstages Obama cabinet picks

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2008:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Google searches on December 7, 2008 turned
up 703,000 web pages discussing U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s
campaign pledge to adopt a dog for his daughters, compared with
533,000 discussing his cabinet picks.
Obama himself addressed selecting the future White House dog
first, in his initial post-election press conference.
“With respect to the dog,” Obama said, “this is a major
issue. I think it has generated more interest on our Web site than
just about anything. We have two criteria to be reconciled. One is
that Malia,” the elder Obama daughter, age 10, “is allergic, so
it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are
hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a
shelter dog, but obviously a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.
So whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things I think
is a pressing issue on the Obama household.”

“I have never seen this many blog notes about shelter dogs,
certainly not in political blogs,” cofounder Betsy
Saul told MSNBC commentator Helen A.S. Popkin. Petfinder, as Popkin
pointed out, hosts adoption web pages for 12,187 animal rescue
groups, displaying more than 300,000 adoptable pets at any given
“If we have dogs good enough for the president, then our
dogs are good enough for you,” American SPCA vice president Steve
Zawistowski told Popkin, while trying to dispel the myth that any
particular breeds are “hypoallergenic.” Which dogs anyone is
allergic to depends upon individual sensitivities, and which dogs
shed the most hair and dander is governed more by climate, health,
and diet than by breed.
Breeders anxious for the Obama family to pick a purebred
aggressively lobbied in favor of almost every kind of dog except a
shelter mutt. More than 20,000 people urged the Obamas to either
adopt or buy a pit bull terrier, but some pit bull rescuers
suggested that this might stimulate pit bull breeding, adding to the
surplus already glutting shelters.
Interest in the Obama family’s dog selection was global. In
Peru, for example, said Associated Press, the Friends of the
Peruvian Hairless Dog Association offered the Obama family a pup
named Machu Picchu.
But the dog question was upstaged in Kenya when the Kenyan
government began promoting an “Obama circuit” to attract tourists to
Kogelo, the western Kenya town where Obama’s father lived. Touting
“traditional” fights between bulls as the climax of “Obama circuit”
tourism, promoter Hillary Wendo of Target Africa obtained eight
bulls and announced that the first bullfights would be held on
December 13, 2008 at Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani, a
suburb of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
Africa Network for Animal Welfare founder Josphat Ngonyo
pointed out that the bullfights would violate at least three
provisions of the Kenyan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Ngonyo at the ANIMAL PEOPLE deadline had applied for a court
injunction that would prohibit the bullfights.

Ag, Interior still open

The most important Obama cabinet pick relative to animal
welfare will be his choice as Secretary of Agriculture. As well as
presiding over U.S. policy toward farm animals, the Secretary of
Agriculture supervises the administration of the Animal & Plant
Health Inspection Service, the branch of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture that enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act. As ANIMAL
PEOPLE went to press, Obama had yet to nominate a Secretary of
Agriculture, but former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, the leading
choice of animal advocates among rumored nominees, on November 23
told the Des Moines Register that he had withdrawn from candidacy.
“In an e-mail,” reported the Register, “Vilsack said he had never
been contacted by aides to President-elect Obama about that position
or any other.”
Said Vilsack, “I would have to speculate that I was in fact
in the running and further speculate as to why I was no longer. I do
not think it prudent or appropriate to speculate about either.”
Obama also had yet to name a Secretary of the Interior, who
will be responsible for administering U.S. public lands policy,
including the Bureau of Land Manage-ment wild horse program, and the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, responsible for enforcing the federal
Endangered Species Act. Among the first problems the new Secretary
of the Interior will have to address–apart from the wild horse issue
(see page 1) will be last-minute changes made by the George W. Bush
regime to the ESA enforcement procedure.
California attorney general and former governor Jerry Brown
on November 10, 2008 reinforced the appeals of conservation groups
for the Obama administration to rescind the rules changes. This can
only be done by Congressional action or through a rule-making
process requiring months of hearings. Brown, a Democrat who twice
pursued the U.S. Presidential nomination and prominently backed
Obama, warned that the changes could put “entire species and
ecosystems at risk for complete destruction.”
Explained Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, “One revision Brown
is concerned about would remove a requirement that scientists at the
Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service must
evaluate how federally approved mining, logging and power plant
projects might impact endangered species before the projects can
“This rule change will remove thousands of projects from
scientific review,” warned Center for Biological Diversity
biodiversity program director Noah Greenwald.
Continued Sapiens, “The Bush administration also wants to
insert language into the law that would keep the effect of greenhouse
gases on threatened wildlife from being factored into the Endangered
Species Act. Environmentalists have used that concept as a
leveraging tool to try to force the administration to act on global
Among Obama’s first cabinet picks was former U.S. deputy
attorney general Eric Holder, named to become Attorney General.
Briefly acting attorney general during the first days of the George
W. Bush presidency, Holder was in July 2007 hired to represent the
National Football League in disciplining former Atlanta Falcons
quarterback and now convicted dogfighter Michael Vick. Already
barred from the Falcons’ training camp, Vick was later indefinitely
suspended. He may seek reinstatement after finishing a three-year
federal prison term on July 20, 2009. Surry County Circuit Court
Judge Samuel Campbell on November 26, 2008 handed Vick a three-year
suspended sentence on related Virginia state charges. Vick pleaded
guilty to one count of dogfighting, but not guilty to cruelty to
animals. The cruelty charge was then dropped.
Obama named New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to become
Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary of Commerce has authority over
several international treaties involving animals, including some of
the enforcement provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Widely considered the most influential U.S. politician of
Hispanic ancestry, Richardson in March 2007 signed into law a
cockfighting ban, pushed for 18 years by state senator Mary Jane
Garcia. Both Richardson and Garcia rejected cockfighters’ claim that
cockfighting is an integral part of Latino heritage. But Richardson
had pledged while running for governor in 2002 that he would not ban
In January 2006 Richardson became a target of SHARK video
truck protests for offering incentives worth $750,000 to try to lure
the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association headquarters from Colorado
to New Mexico; pledging $12 million in state funding for a top-level
rodeo arena; and pledging $3 million more to help renovate local
rodeo arenas. After Richardson signed the cockfighting ban, he
boasted in July 2007 of shooting an oryx at media magnate Ted
Turner’s New Mexico ranch.
Richardson was also “a prominent steer roping supporter with
arena banners and a full page advertisement of himself in the rodeo
program” at the 2007 National Finals Steer Roping event in Hobbs, New
Mexico during the first weekend of November, reported SHARK founder
Steve Hindi.

Use groups lose clout

Animal use industries expect major political realignment with
Obama in the White House and a Democratic-controlled Senate and House
of Representatives.
Wrote P. Scott Shearer for National Hog Farmer North American
Preview, “California voters approved by over 60% the referendum
[Proposition Two] that would ban modern confinement housing for
egg-laying hens, pregnant sows and veal calves by 2015. This vote
will have a major influence on animal welfare issues in the 111th
Agreed Troy Marshall of Beef, “Agriculture spent a lot of
money, and 30 of the state’s largest newspapers came out in
opposition to Proposition Two. Yet it passed overwhelmingly.
Whether it be on trade, taxes, the environment, animal welfare,
industry regulation, bio-fuels or simply rural America’s political
clout, the winds are not blowing in our favor.” Obama has said
little about farm animal welfare, but favors stricter regulation of
air and water pollution produced by feedlots, called CAFO, short
for “confined animal feeding operations,” by the industry.
Hunters are also worried. Pointed out Humane Society
Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian, “The National Rifle
Association not only failed to elect John McCain and Sarah Palin to
the White House, but also failed to defend many of its leading
advocates in Congress. In the 39 Congress-ional races where the NRA
and Humane Society Legislative Fund endorsed opposing candidates,
HSLF won 76% of the time.”
An early outcome of that balance tilt was that on November
20, 2008, Henry A. Waxman of California ousted John D. Dingell of
Michigan as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce,
137-122. Dingell had been the ranking Democrat on the committee
since 1980. The committee hears most items of environmental
legislation before they pass to the full House.
Mourned the U.S. Sportsmens Alliance, “Representive Dingell
has been a tireless champion of sportsmen issues for decades, while
Representive Waxman has a long history of supporting the causes of
extremist animal rights and anti-firearm groups. Among Waxman’s
anti-hunting votes are: against allowing hunting, fishing, and
trapping in the East Mojave Scenic Area; against the National
Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1996 that enshrined hunting,
fishing, and trapping as a priority use of wildlife refuges; and for
banning the importation of polar bear trophies.”
But hunter support helped incumbent Georgia Senator Saxby
Chambliss, a Republican, to win a runoff that denied the Demo-crats
a 60-vote filibuster-proof Senate majority. “Chambliss is an
important ally for sportsmen, animal owners, and animal
agriculture,” exulted Sportsmen & Animal Owners Voting Alliance
director Susan Wolf. “As [then] chair of the Senate Committee on
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Chambliss ended” a bill that
would have extended the Animal Welfare Act to protect all dogs bred
for sale. “Chambliss has also been an astute opponent of horse
slaughter bans,” Wolf added.
Among the recipients of presidential pardons granted by
George W. Bush before leaving office were Milton Kirk Cordes of Rapid
City, South Dakota, and Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston,
“Cordes,” recalled Markarian, “was convicted of violating
the Lacey Act in 1998, for his part in a private big-game hunting
operation which illegally obtained mule deer licenses for
out-of-state trophy hunters.”
Collier in 1995 pleaded guilty to poisoning three federally
protected bald eagles, a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl, an
opossum, a raccoon, and seven coyotes, while trying to encourage
the recovery of a huntable wild turkey population on his farm.
Seen by many Republicans as potentially their next
presidential candidate, losing vice presidential candidate Sarah
Palin in her capacity as governor of Alaska on November 21, 2008
usurped a ceremonial role usually reserved to presidents by
“pardoning” a turkey at the Triple D Farm & Hatchery outside Wasilla,
Alaska–her home town. Video by Marc Lester of the Anchorage Daily
News showed Palin reading a proclamation proclaiming herself a
“friend to all creatures great and small,” elbowing the farmer
standing beside her as if to share a joke.
After the “pardon,” the Lester video showed, Palin held a
press conference while turkey slaughtering went on in the background.
“She does have this very special relationship with animals,”
commented Ana Marie Cox of Time on the MSNBC program Countdown,
hosted by Keith Olbermann. “It involves blood usually.”

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