feb 09Main Street Journal
March 2009
pp. 9-10

Our leaders in Washington recently passed a $700 billion bill that none of them read, addressing a situation apparently none of them understood.

They deserve our gratitude for discovering the crucial link between our economy’s strength and supplemental appropriations for projects like the “Weatherization Assistance Program” ($5 billion), clean-up at “former weapon production and energy research sites” ($6 billion) and climate change research at NASA ($400 million).

Who better to guide the nation’s economy than the political experts who’ve so deftly amassed a $455 billion fiscal year deficit, a $10.6 trillion national debt, and $65.5 trillion in total federal obligations – a debt that now exceeds the entire world’s gross domestic product?

But the decline of the housing market, the crash of the stock market, and the failure of banking institutions brought about at least one positive development. Members of the mainstream media finally found something to distract them from what TIME magazine in August called “the most important decision facing Barack Obama,” namely, finding a dog.

We probably shouldn’t be too hard on our fickle and shallow journalists and their lazy obsessions. Even though they’re eager to behave like Presidential lapdogs and seem to have lost interest in their role as government watchdogs, there’s a certain significance in chronicling the puppy search.

Perhaps ironically, K9s tend to bring out the humanity in all of us. President Truman once remarked, “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.” So Richard Nixon had Checkers, Bill Clinton had Buddy, and George W. Bush had Tony Blair (or so they told us).

After a thorough vetting, probably one exceeding that of Tom Daschle, Bill Richardson, Nancy Killefer and Judd Gregg combined, the First Family seized upon two breeds deemed safe enough for the allergic First Daughters: the Portuguese Water Dog and the Labradoodle.

The hitch is, they also vowed to adopt a “mutt” from the pound. But since Portuguese Water Dogs are a closely-monitored, purebred, AKC registered breed and Labradoodles are designer hybrids, neither of these expensive breeds are likely to be found at a shelter.

The President shouldn’t have painted himself into a corner. New York Post columnist (and mutt advocate) Julia Szabo says there’s technically no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, and she suggests a number of measures to combat the source of allergies – dander. Pet owners can receive allergy shots, perform regular housecleaning, supplement their pet’s diet with fish or olive oil, groom regularly, use special shampoo and give special attention to air filters and vacuum cleaners.

Even new dog owners without allergies will find themselves paying for all sorts of products and services they may not have anticipated, including vet visits, special food and treats, toys and chews, grooming products and services, cleaning materials, training devices, bedding, and the list goes on. The pet industry is big business.

This is obvious to veteran pet owners or those who’ve followed companies like PetSmart (PETM), which saw its stock rise 26.6% between November and March, even as The Dow dropped 7.86%.

In retrospect, perhaps the media should have been even more obsessed with the First Dog, given the proven ability of pets to stimulate the economy and create jobs. That’s far more than we can say for most of the legislation coming out of Washington.