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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Lawmakers Can Lead by Example on Responsible Pet Care

Politicians have the blessing and the curse of being in public life, and every move they make is closely scrutinized. We have learned an awful lot about Hillary Clinton’s tax returns, Barack Obama’s pastor, and John McCain’s temper—even though for ordinary citizens those would be considered private matters.

It means that lawmakers and candidates have to worry about their personal behavior as much as they worry about their votes and policies. They not only have to obey the laws, but also have to exhibit good judgment and set a positive example for others.

German_shep South Carolina state Sen. Kent Williams (D-30th) recently learned this the hard way. An article by Dianne P. Owens in the Florence Morning News reported that Williams got into hot water for returning his pregnant German shepherd to a local animal shelter. It seems that the senator adopted three dogs from the Marion County Animal Shelter, gave two to his mother and brother, and kept one in his fenced backyard. The dog escaped the fence several times, and Williams decided to return her to the shelter.

Both South Carolina and Marion County laws require that animals adopted from a shelter be spayed or neutered, but Williams apparently ignored the policy because he wanted to breed the female German shepherd. The dog, named Gretchen, had become pregnant during one of her many trysts outside the fence, and just days after being returned to the shelter, she gave birth to eight puppies. The story has incensed animal lovers and quickly made the rounds on blogs such as For the Love of the Dog, Rescue Dog Central, New Lead on Life, and FITSNews.

It’s especially struck a chord after Oprah Winfrey’s powerful show on Friday about responsible pet ownership and the problems facing dogs. Oprah chastised the puppy mill industry for churning out dogs like livestock, and informed millions of viewers about pet overpopulation and shelter euthanasia. She implored animal lovers to have their own pets spayed and neutered so they don’t contribute to the millions of homeless dogs and cats euthanized each year at shelters.

We can do better for pets as a nation. Our elected leaders can set a positive example for all citizens by being part of the solution, not the problem—adopting animals, having them spayed and neutered, providing the best veterinary care, keeping them inside our homes rather than chained or fenced outside, solving behavioral problems rather than dumping them at shelters.

When we don’t act responsibly, it hurts the animals. But when politicians fail in their personal responsibility to pets, it could just put them in the dog house.


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