We don’t deserve dogs. The internet has spoken — and the consensus is unanimous.
Of course, we have them anyway. At last count the United States was home to 90 million dogs, sometimes multiple dogs per household. We love them like family. Dogs are our best friends and national obsession. Dogs are not just dogs, but dogues, doggos, puppers. Somewhere between the advent of the @Dog_Rates Twitter account (where every dog scores at least 11 points out of a possible 10), the rise of subscription boxes full of gourmet freeze-dried beef spleen and a 1,000 percent increase in the term ‘pet parents’, dogs came to represent the living embodiment of all that is good and pure. We invent holidays to celebrate them; we pay for doggie day care, massage therapy and personal trainers; we buy them bespoke bow-ties with cute seasonal motifs from artisans on Etsy. (Or maybe that last one was just me. I have no regrets, he looks fabulous.) We even rallied around a presidential candidate who promised to bring the pitter-patter of furry feet back to the White House, unlike the incumbent Trump, who on top of all his many flaws was also notoriously indifferent to canine charms.
But in our enthusiasm for our beloved dogs, have we come just a little unhinged? Like parents so intent on being friends with our children (the human variety) that we abdicate our role as household leaders, are we losing perspective and shirking responsibility when it comes to raising them properly?
The national dog discourse so far this month shows a possible trend emerging. First, Major Biden, the German shepherd rescue whose reassuring presence helped propel dogfather Joe Biden to a presidential win last November, is still struggling to adjust to his new digs in Washington. After a series of unfortunate dog-bites-staff incidents, the White House announced that Major would be sent away to receive additional training, as if he were an underqualified employee who just needed to renew his Six Sigma certification.
Meanwhile, as Major was shipped off to canine reform school, NYC mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang posted a picture of his family dog to Twitter — only to reveal at the end of the tweet that they’d given up the pup to a friend when one of the Yang kids became dog-allergic.
Twitter, a place where the love of dogs often shades toward obsession, did not take Yang’s post well. (One standout category of enraged Reply Guy insisted that Yang should have subjected his son, who is autistic, to an anti-allergy injection regimen rather than rehoming the puppy.) The news about Major Biden, on the other hand, received no such vitriol.
But if responsible dog ownership is meant to be a priority — and if we really love dogs as much as we say we do — then the public reaction to each of these stories should really be reversed. It’s not that we need to return to the bad old days when pets were discarded (or worse, euthanized) when they acted out, got old, or just no longer fit a family’s lifestyle. But worshipping at the altar of pet parenthood, no matter the cost to the animal, isn’t about caring for these creatures whose lives are in our hands; it’s self-serving and, in the worst cases, traps a good dog in a bad situation. This is why Andrew Yang made a difficult, emotional, but ultimately loving and responsible decision to find a new home for his puppy, rather than subject the whole family, dog included, to the stresses of a living situation that was unhealthy for everyone.
And Major’s biting incidents suggest that he’s stressed out and unhappy in his new home at the White House, where the constraints of the presidency necessarily prevent Joe Biden from giving the dog the kind of time and attention he needs — a miserable situation for everyone, but especially for the dog. If President Biden really cares about Major, perhaps the kindest course of action would be to let him go home to Delaware, where he can be comfortable and cared for by the same family friend who he lived with earlier this year. (If anyone questions the decision, he can say he did it for Dog and Country.)
We may or may not deserve dogs, but sometimes, our dogs deserve better (or at least different) lives than we can give them. When that happens, the responsible and loving thing to do is find them a home they can thrive in.