I’m surprised that I’m so upset over a pretty minor thing, but it’s bugging me, so I’m going to write about it. I’m really upset about how the media is covering the Biden dogs, and especially Major and his ongoing issues.
Here’s the thing: rescue animals have problems. Even the most well-adjusted rescue pet has had to deal with the trauma of being taken from where they were and placed in the shelter or rescue facility. When you disrupt their daily lives, those issues are going to come back into play.
A few years ago, in the span of 6 weeks, we lost our pair of tabby cat brothers, Connor and Liam, to old age. Liam was a few months shy of his 19th birthday, and Connor was only 10 days from his 19th birthday. They were rescues only in the sense that they came from the vet once they were weaned (their mother cat died giving birth to the litter) and then raised by my husband. They were 6 years old when I first met them, and I grew really attached to them and was devastated when we lost them both so close to each other.
In time I returned as a volunteer to the shelter I like to support and resumed socializing young cats and adult cats with behavioral issues. When I went into “the kitten room” the first kitten I met was Finn, then known as Iggy. He was so large that at first I thought he was a momma cat that needed to be kept near her delicate kittens. I also met his sister Rey, then known as Sissy, because she parked herself next to me on the bench and kept poking me whenever I stopped petting her.
We don’t really know what happened to them before they came to the shelter as they were left in a carrier tied to the fence around the facility. That road hosts a lot of tractor trailer traffic, so you can draw your own conclusions as to how they react to noise now. From the note in their carrier we know they were abandoned by a breeder and it’s easy to see why they were abandoned—Finn has a white spot on his belly and Rey was clearly the runt of the litter: very small, little coordination, and definitely behind in her progress. Finn is a Russian Blue and Rey is a Russian Black. His white spot and her slow progress meant no one would breed or pay an exorbitant price for either of them–which is why you should adopt, not shop.
In addition, Finn was easily overstimulated, which was characterized as his having a bad temper. He was just a super-loving kitty who loves to be petted, but back then could not actually handle a lot of petting. In the shelter setting this meant he swiped at people who gave him the attention he craved. I had been a volunteer there long enough to know that he’d never get adopted with that behavior, and if he never left the shelter, his shy and struggling sister wouldn’t either. So I brought my husband in to meet them. Rey immediately jumped in his lap. We brought them home a few days later.
Rey has since filled out, gained confidence and strength, and is a lively, loving kitty who will nip you if you make too much noise. Finn is now a cat you can pay a ton of attention to without fear of getting scratched. It took a good bit of time to redirect his energy from being focused on you and what he wanted from you to do for him right now, to being focused on a toy, and then on toys he could entertain himself with. He’s learned to use his tail to signal to us that he’s growing agitated with how we’re petting him, and if we forget he doesn’t like it if you put your arm across him while he’s lying on his side, he gently pushes your arm away with his back feet instead of scratching you. He’s so sweet now that he climbs under the covers and sleeps with me on cold nights, only occasionally poking me with a claw if I roll over too far.
I think about Finn when I read about Major Biden. Major is a good dog. He doesn’t have a temper—he has a problem with being overstimulated. And there are too many unfamiliar people around him and he doesn’t have his own Person to look after him during the day. When Finn was a crazy kitten, I made a point to cuddle up with him every day—to pet him and handle him to make up for the months of socialization he didn’t have during his long shelter transition—so he knew he had me to come to when he was scared or thinking about acting out.
Instead of using Major’s issues as a teaching moment for people who don’t understand dogs, the press is using them to bash the Bidens. On Wednesday the big news was that one of the dogs pooped on a floor in the White House. (Remember the furor when President Obama’s dogs did the same thing? You don’t? I wonder why that is.)
On Tuesday, Lester Holt accepted the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award and said this:
“I think it’s become clearer that fairness is overrated,” he said. “Before you run with or tweet that headline, let me explain a bit. The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in. That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention.”
I really don’t know if our media wants to do the work to drop the “both sides” nonsense. The same media that spent years trying to normalize the previous president* is both-sidesing the increasingly-popular Biden by trying to paint him as a bad pet parent with dire implications for the future of this nation. I can train a problem cat. I have no idea how to fix our broken news media.
I’ll let Norah Jones take it from here.