“First dog” may be last Obama pick
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2009:
WASHINGTON D.C.–The identity of the new First Dog remained
unknown as the January/February 2009 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE went to
press, a week before the inauguration of incoming U.S. President
Barack Obama–but the Obama family leans toward either a Portuguese
water dog or a Labradoodle, Obama told the ABC News show This Week
With George Stephanopoulous on January 11, 2009.
Portuguese water dogs, usually pedigreed, are rarely seen
in shelters. Labradoodles are a “designer hybrid” of Labrador
retriever with poodle, not recognized by the American Kennel Club as
a breed, but now commonly produced by commercial breeders, often
found in raids on alleged puppy mills, and widely available from
shelters and rescue groups.
Obama has repeatedly promised since July 2008 to acquire a
dog for his daughters, upon moving into the White House, and has
often stated his preference for a shelter dog. He announced the
Obama family’s preference for a Portuguese water dog or a Labradoodle
about six weeks after controversy blew up over vice president-elect
Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s choice of a new dog.
Biden was not known to be thinking about getting a dog–but
on December 6, 2008, Biden bought a six-week-old German shepherd
from breeder Linda Brown of Spring City, Pennsylvania. “Brown, 63,
who advertises as JoLindy’s German Shepherds,” licensed as Wolf Den
Kennels, “has been a breeder for 40 years,” reported Amy Worden of
the Philadelphia Inquirer. “She was referred to the Bidens by
Delaware police dog trainer Mark Tobin,” coordinator of the New
Castle County Police K-9 division, “who will have the task of house
training the new pup.”
“Tobin, who also owns and operates a police K-9 camp, does
personal dog training and police dog training, running 32 canine
units in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” added the
“I searched the kennels in the area and Brown has a decent
history with the German shepherd blood line and her paperwork was in
order,” Tobin told the Mercury.
But only four days after the Biden entourage took the dog,
the Maryland Department of Agriculture cited Brown for allegedly
failing to keep records and provide adequate proof of vaccinations.
“We went in there and cleaned everything up and I didn’t even
think about it,” Brown claimed, saying she must have accidentally
thrown away the paperwork. “How many times does the vice president
visit? Maybe once in a lifetime?”
But Maryland Department of Agriculture spokesperson Chris
Ryder told the Mercury that the alleged violations were found during
the kennel’s second scheduled inspection of 2008, much earlier.
Brown said she promptly obtained copies of the missing
documents and sent them to the state agriculture agency.
“We’re going to have more than one puppy,” Biden told This
Week With George Stephanopoulous on December 17, 2008, steering for
“I’ve had German shepherds since I was a kid, and I’ve
actually trained them and shown them in the past,” Biden said. “So
I wanted a German shepherd, and we’re going to get a pound dog,
which my wife wants, hopefully a golden” retriever.
“There are plenty of dogs to rescue,” commented Judy Holmes
of Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue. The rescue has
reportedly placed two dogs with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell,
who has pushed throughout his tenure for stricter regulation of dog
Observed Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike
Markarian, “The Bidens have a rescued cat, Daisy, who was adopted
from an animal shelter. Biden fell short of the highest standard of
adopting all of his companion animals from shelters or rescue groups,
but he is one of only seven senators to receive the highest score of
100+ on our most recent Humane Scorecard.”
Markarian reminded Biden’s critics that as a U.S. Senator,
Biden introduced a resolution opposing the annual Atlantic Canada
seal hunt, co-authored legislation to protect dolphins from being
netted by commercial tuna fishers, and pushed a bill to prohibit
hunting exotic mammals in fenced enclosures.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was among Obama’s
most problematic cabinet picks from a pro-animal perspective, on
January 5, 2009 withdrew from consideration as U.S. Commerce
Secretary, because “a pending investigation of a company that has
done business with New Mexico state government promises to extend for
several weeks or perhaps even months,” Richardson said in a prepared
“Let me say unequivocally,” Richardson added, “that I and
my administration have acted properly in all matters and that this
investigation will bear out that fact. But I have concluded that the
ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in
the confirmation process.”
The Commerce Secretary has authority over several
international treaties involving animals, including some of the
enforcement provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Richardson promised while running for New Mexico governor in
2002 that he would not ban cockfighting, but in March 2007 signed
into law a cockfighting ban pushed for 18 years by state senator Mary
Jane Garcia. Earlier, Richardson poured as much as $16 million in
state funding and tax incentives into schemes to promote rodeo. In
July 2007 Richardson boasted about shooting an oryx at media magnate
Ted Turner’s New Mexico ranch.
Obama did not name his next choice to become Commerce
Secretary before ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.
The cabinet members whose actions most affect animals are the
secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior.
Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack, former governor
of Iowa, was immediate praised after Obama named him by leaders of
the American Meat Institute, the National Turkey Federation, the
National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council, the
U.S. Meat Export Federation, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef
Vilsack was rapped by some environmental groups for promoting
the use of corn-based ethanol biofuels and for supporting
agricultural use of genetic engineering. He founded and formerly
chaired the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership and was named
Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
But Mark Neuzil of MinnPost.com pointed out that Vilsack has
consistently favored stricter regulation of animal agriculture. “In
Iowa,” wrote Neuzil, ‘the state regulates the siting of factory
farms; cities and counties have virtually no say. This removes the
not-in-my-back-yard factor from factory farm placements and has
allowed, critics say, big pig lots to land wherever they please.
Vilsack’s attempts at local control were consistently blocked by the
state legislature,” Neuzil added.
Said Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle,
“We’ve always liked Vilsack, and we endorsed him for the post. The
former Iowa governor had a strong record on many animal protection
issues that came up in Iowa–everything from cracking down on animal
fighting to vetoing legislation that would have classified puppy mill
dogs as ‘farm products’ and allowed mourning dove hunting in the
state. In his new post, Vilsack will have to confront major food
policy issues, and we’ll be advocating strongly for a fresh new
perspective at the agency,” Pacelle pledged.
National Audubon Society president John Flicker praised both
Vilsack and Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar, 53, a former
director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and fifth
generation rancher who has served since 2004 as a U.S. Senator from
Safari Club International president Merle Shepard was also
quick to endorse Salazar. “Senator Salazar’s pro-hunting votes over
the past four years in Washington, and his support for access to
federal lands for hunting throughout his entire career in Colorado
will prove to be invaluable for sportsmen and women during this
Administration,” said Shepard.
Salazar scored 85% from the League of Conservation Voters for
his performance in the 110th Congress, and has scored 81% during his
entire Senate career.
“As a Senator, Salazar supported legislation that would
increase the tax incentives for landowners to conserve habitat,”
explained Defenders of Wildlife senior vice president for
conservation programs Bob Irvin. A Defenders media statement praised
Salazar for “an increasingly strong environmental voting record.”
“I think he is a lot better than the rape-and-pillage
approach we’ve had for the last eight years,” Natural Resources
Defense Council senior attorney Sharon Buccino told Associated Press
writer Judith Kohler.
“I think at best Salazar is not interested in Endangered
Species Act implementation and at worst, he might object to some of
the more important listings that need to occur,” said Nicole
Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
“Ken Salazar will not fit in with any environmental green
team,” agreed Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological
Diversity. “He has taken many bad positions on global warming and
fuel efficiency, and has been weak on endangered species.”
Prairie dog advocates recalled that Salazar in 1999
threatened to sue the federal government if black-tailed prairie dogs
were protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Proponents of strong Endangered Species Act enforcement also
remembered that Salazar endorsed the appointment of former Colorado
attorney general Gale Norton to be Interior Secretary under President
George W. Bush. Norton hired Julie MacDonald as her deputy assistant
secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. MacDonald resigned in April
2007 “a week before a House congressional oversight committee was to
hold a hearing on accusations that she violated the Endangered
Species Act, censored science and mistreated staff of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service,” summarized Matthew Daly of Associated Press.
Obama nominated marine scientist Jane Lubchenco to head the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. HSUS president
Pacelle praised Lubchenco as “a strong voice for science-based
management of fisheries and oceans.”
NOAA “is responsible for enforcing a variety of laws related
to the protection of marine mammals and oceans,” and “plays a key
role in representing the U.S. at the International Whaling
Commission, where officials from Iceland, Japan and Norway are
pressing for expanded whaling,” Pacelle noted.
Appointee edited AR law text
Other Obama nominees for senior administrative positions of
potential note to animal advocates include Sanjay Gupta, named to
become Surgeon General, and Cass R. Sunstein, named to head the
White House Office of Management & Budget.
Gupta, 39, is a part-time practicing neurosurgeon at the
Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and health commentator for CNN who
has reported sympathetically, albeit not uncritically, about
vegetarian and vegan diets.
Sunstein may be best known for his books Laws of Fear:
Beyond the Precautionary Principle; Risk and Reason: Safety, Law,
and the Environment; Worst-Case Scenarios; and Radicals in Robes:
Why Extreme Right-Wing Courts Are Wrong for America.
Sunstein and Martha C. Nussbaum in 2004 co-edited the
anthology Animal Rights: Current Debates & New Directions,
extensively reviewed in the October 2004 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
The 338-page volume includes contributions by many of the most
prominent pro-animal legal thinkers and philosophers.
Wrote Sunstein, “It would not be a gross exaggeration to say
that federal and state laws now guarantee a robust set of animal
rights,” but he acknowledged that these rights exist mainly on
paper, and argued for expanding the ability of humans to sue on
behalf of animals.
Undoing rules changes
The Obama appointees are expected to mobilize as rapidly as
possible to undo the effects of numerous last-minute administrative
rule changes imposed by the exiting George W. Bush administration.
Many of the rule changes weaken enforcement of the Endangered Species
Act and other wildlife protection laws.
One rule change allows federal agencies to issue permits for
mining, logging and other projects that may potentially disrupt
habitat without review by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and/or the
National Marine Fisheries Service.
Another rule change instructs that agencies may not consider
the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on ecosystems when reviewing
projects such as new roads or coal plants on federal land, and may
not use the Endangered Species Act to obstruct projects that may
result in greenhouse gas emissions.
California attorney general Jerry Brown ensured that these
rules will receive immediate high-priority attention by suing the
George W. Bush administration on the last day of 2008 in U.S.
District Court in San Francisco.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence meanwhile sued the
Bush administration to try to reverse a rules change that allows
visitors to carry concealed loaded guns in most U.S. National Parks
and National Wildlife Refuges.
The new rule “jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in
violation of federal law,” alleged Brady Campaign president Paul
Helmke. “We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to
carry concealed firearms in our parks.”
Many wildlife law enforcement personnel see the rules change
as a boon to poachers. Formerly, finding a National Park or
National Wildlife Refuge visitor in possession of a firearm was
sufficient to make an arrest, before the suspect could shoot an
animal. Now a poacher must be caught in the act or in possession of
The Government Accountability Office reported in early
January 2009 that under Bush, the National Marine Fisheries Service
failed to issue regulatory protections for 14 of the 30 marine mammal
species it is required to protect under the Marine Mammal Protection
Act. Among the unprotected species are Hawaiian pseudorcas and
humpback whales in the central North Pacific region, between Hawaii
Observed Hope Yen of Associated Press, “The GAO report came
a day after Bush designated what he called ‘three beautiful and
biologically diverse areas of the Pacific Ocean’ as national marine
monuments in what was the largest marine conservation effort in
history. Bush used his announcement to broadly defend his
Protected–on paper–were 195,000 square miles including the
Mariana Trench and northern Mariana Islands, the Rose Atoll in
American Samoa, and a remote island chain in the Central Pacific.
The proclamation prohibits fishing within the protected region, but
no immediate provisions were made for enforcement.
“Collectively, the three areas will nudge out the Phoenix
Island Protected Area, established in 2008 by the South Pacific
nation of Kiribati as the world’s largest protected area,” noted
Kerry Sheridan of Agence France-Presse. “They also top Bush’s last
such announcement of a marine protection area in 2006–the 140,000
square miles of Pacific Ocean near the northwestern Hawaiian islands.”
New Congress’ first actions
The last-minute Bush administration move to designate
protected marine habitat did not prevent western Republican
complaints when the newly sworn-in U.S. Senate, in a rare Sunday
session, approved a bill held over from the 110th Congress to
protect two million acres in nine states as wilderness. Approved
66-12, with some Republican support, the Senate bill consolidated
about 160 items originally introduced as separate bills.
Among the other first bills introduced as the 111th Congress
convened “were two important measures to protect wildlife, both of
which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly last year
and should be on the fast track” to passage, observed Markarian of
the Humane Legislative Fund. “The Captive Primate Safety Act seeks
to ban interstate commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade. The
Shark Conservation Act would protect vulnerable shark species from
the cruel and wasteful practice of ‘finning,’ in which tens of
millions of sharks worldwide have their fins cut off at sea and are
then thrown back overboard to die a lingering, painful death.
Although shark finning was banned in the U.S. in 2000,” Markarian
said, the new bill “would close a major loophole that currently
permits a vessel to transport fins that were obtained illegally, as
long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel. It also
requires that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached
to their bodies, strengthening enforcement in the oceans.”
Markarian is hoping that both bills will be among the first
that Obama signs into law.