12/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reflections On the New "First Puppy"

At PETA, our phones have been ringing off the hook after the president-elect brought up the Obamas' commitment to their children of bringing a new dog into their family.

Apparently, the thing his daughters want more than anything in the world is a puppy with whom they can share their love and compassion. I'm sure millions of Americans -- and others around the world who were watching this most-watched of presidential acceptance speeches -- can understand their feelings: The animals with whom we share our lives are valuable members of our families.

The question now for the Obamas, and this one is up to Michelle and their daughters as much as to Barack, is about who this new family member, the new "first puppy," will be. For anyone who cares about animals, the decision is not one to be taken lightly.

At PETA, we were immediately optimistic. On the campaign train, Senator Obama declared, "I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other. And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals." So we were sure that the Obamas would, as they have now pledged to do, adopt a homeless dog from an animal shelter or rescue group.

This decision is the right one in myriad ways. For one, they are saving an animal from being killed -- what a great way to begin the Obama presidency. Perhaps more importantly, the decision sends a message to the nation of concern for animals in shelters -- many will follow the Obamas' lead, saving many more animals from being euthanized in shelters. And of course, the decision characterizes the Obamas as compassionate, progressive, and champions for the true "underdogs."

There is no getting around the fact that buying a puppy from a breeder or pet store is a death sentence for a homeless shelter pup. Every year, millions of unique, friendly, smart, and affectionate animals who would make excellent companions are euthanized in our country's shelters simply because there aren't enough good homes for them.

Breeders and pet stores fuel this crisis by cranking out litter after litter of puppies and kittens who steal homes from animals in shelters, and who often go on to produce offspring of their own, if their guardians don't bother to have them spayed or neutered.

It's only fitting that our President-elect, who now faces the monumental task of rescuing a country in crisis, would begin by rescuing a lucky dog from the crisis that our nation's animals have been caught in for many years.

Like many of the problems our country faces, the companion animal overpopulation crisis is massive and at times overwhelming. But if we work together -- in this case, by adopting animals and always spaying and neutering -- it is a problem that yes we can fix.

There is hope, and change really can happen -- and I can't imagine a more fitting symbol of this than a Great American Melting-Pot Mutt, going from death row to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.