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Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Letter to Sasha and Malia Obama on the Second Anniversary of Bo's Arrival

Bo Obama arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue two years ago today (April 14, 2009). A six-month-old puppy at the time, he fulfilled the president’s campaign promise to his daughters to get them a dog.

Months earlier, when Bo was just a month old, I presented the homily for the “Blessing of the Animals Service” at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City. The centerpiece of my homily was an open letter to Sasha and Malia, describing how bringing a dog into their lives would provide great joy, but also new and lasting responsibilities.

What follows is an abstract of my homily that day, which I share with current and future dog lovers as a reminder of the wonderful pleasure and obligations that pets bring to our lives.

My words to you this afternoon will reflect upon one of the most popular animal stories of the year, the acquisition of a puppy for Sasha and Malia Obama. Let’s meditate upon our own relationship with animals through this open letter to the Obama girls.

Dear Sasha and Malia,

We, the assembled animal lovers at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City, are excited that you are about to embark on a wonderful journey with a puppy.  What an inspired way to ease your transition to Washington.

Do you know what the letters of PUPPY stand for? Here is our interpretation….

“P” is for pleasure, that effervescent joy that radiates from a well-cared-for pet. Dogs have two sides to their brains, one side is to please and the other is to work. The pleasing side craves attention and friendship which, when supplied in abundance, yields a strong return on investment.

But there is more to a puppy than all that is pleasurable, because the “U” stands for utility.  This side of the dog’s brain wants to work: to pull a sled, to guide blind people, to jump and fetch a stick, to swim, or protect the weak. Not all such activities are possible in Washington, of course, but I’m sure you can develop some creative activities for your puppy, perhaps at Camp David.

The next “P” stands for presence. As you admire your dear puppy, take a moment to sense the presence of the rich wholeness of the earth and all the abundant manifestations of nature.

Puppy’s third “P” is perseverance. Acquiring a pet carries the moral obligation to take care of your dog, to train, to groom, to assure proper nutrition, to provide quality health and veterinary care. Moral outrage occurs when pets are sickened or injured by humans. But other times, pets are harmed inadvertently, such as the dog who develops pancreatitis from eating table scraps, or the dog who indiscriminately bites strangers because of lack of training. With pets, the sins of omission may be as serious as those of commission.

And what happens if you get tired of your pet, when you have friends over who do not like dogs, or if your boyfriend turns out to me more exciting than your puppy, or when you go off to college?  Never forget that perseverance and commitment represent a two-way street.

As always in life, it all comes down to you, the final letter of PUPPY.  Getting a pet will change your life. It will bond you with joy, with friendship, with commitment, and – yes – occasionally with sorrow. Because dogs have a shorter life span than people, we have several opportunities to have them join our family. In this way, they can meet special and unique needs at different stages of life.

Sasha and Malia, you are now at the beginning of your adventure with a puppy. May the joy that you derive and the comfort that you receive, create for you a fresh and personal perspective on the wonder of all animals and the world that we share with them.