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Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Picture View of Joe Biden

Vice President-elect Joe Biden announced yesterday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that he would soon get a second dog—this time, a shelter dog to share space with him and Jill Biden at the vice president’s residence, the Naval Observatory, which thankfully has a big fenced yard. The HSUS and other animal protection advocates welcomed this announcement from Biden, and said so in a story by Amy Worden published yesterday in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

184x265_joe_biden_puppy The shelter dog announcement came not long after Biden purchased a German shepherd puppy from a commercial kennel in Chester County, Pa., and created something of a dust-up within the humane movement. That announcement rankled animal advocates, partly because the state is known as the puppy mill capital of the East Coast, and there were some questions about whether this particular breeder was a responsible one or not.

The facility had 84 dogs on the property—much fewer than the hundreds of breeding dogs stacked in wire cages at the most abusive puppy mills. The owner has been cited for failing to provide records on sales and vaccinations, and given warnings for sanitation and maintenance problems involving a strong ammonia smell and broken wires and piping in the outdoor kennel areas.

On balance, it seems that it’s not the best operation, and not the worst. There are plenty of breeders who produce a small number of litters each year, and the treatment can hardly be characterized as abusive in any way. If people opt not to go to a shelter or rescue group and instead to a breeder, we encourage them to make sure they can visit the breeder in person and see how the animals are treated—do they live inside the home or outside in cages? And we urge people never to buy dogs over the Internet or from pet stores where you can’t see how they were raised.

Bringing a new pet into your home is a meaningful experience in the life of any family. The Bidens have a rescued cat, Daisy, who was adopted from an animal shelter, and like many American families, they have a mixed household of purchased and adopted pets.

We obviously care very much about the symbolic importance of the nation’s top elected officials setting the right example for the American public by acquiring their companion animals from shelters or rescue groups. Biden fell short of the highest standard of adopting all of his companion animals from shelters or rescue groups, but he’s not the sort of person to be written off in any way. He’s shown now he’s sensitive to the concern with his public announcement of a shelter dog adoption.

Biden has also been a stalwart friend of animal welfare advocates in the Senate, and is one of only seven senators to receive the highest score of 100+ on the most recent Humane Scorecard. In his new role with the incoming Administration, he can influence the lives of millions of animals by advocating for animals on important policy matters related to puppy mills, animal fighting, humane slaughter, wildlife and marine mammal protection, and much more.

Not only a supporter of animal protection legislation during his career, Biden has also been a leader on important issues. He was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the 108th Congress on legislation to ban the netting of dolphins by commercial tuna fishermen. He was the lead author of a bill in the 107th Congress to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully passed the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the 110th Congress, he joined Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in introducing a resolution calling on Canada to stop its annual massacre of baby harp seals for their fur pelts.

We’ve already reached out to the Obamas to give them encouragement to acquire a shelter dog for Malia and Sasha. But, again, as with Biden, it’s the policies he’s implementing and advocating for that hold the prospect of sparing vast suffering. It is the series of decisions he makes on pressing animal protection policies that we will be most attentive to in 2009 and beyond.


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