Rahm Emanuel“I’m going to kill that fucking dog.”

So said President Obama’s then-Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emanuel—according to White House insider Jonathan Alter, the former Chicagoan and Newsweek correspondent. Rahm, it seems, was not exactly besotted by Bo, the Obamas’ Portuguese water dog. The puppy was given to leaving puddles behind on the White House carpets, distracting the president—who, according to Alter, sometimes had to deal with the mess personally.

I remembered the quote while reading about Emanuel’s plan to educate and then fine—$30 to $200—the approximately 95 percent of the city’s estimated 560,000 dog-owners who do not bother to buy a license from the City Clerk for their dogs. (Last year the City Clerk sold just 27,918 licenses.)

When asked about the dog issue late last month, Emanuel gave one of his stranger performances, channeling the Jewish comics I used to see while vacationing with my family in the Catskill Mountains in the ’50s: “The unlicensed dog. Oooh. Who knew? Oy. I can hear it now. Oy vay. Who knew about the licensed dog? What happened here? Vat are you doing?” He also mentioned that as a kid he had a pet. “Look, we all love our individual pets. I grew up with them myself. But you can’t have some people abiding and being responsible and others not.”  

His press secretary, Tarrah Cooper, confirmed that the Emanuel family does not have a dog or a pet of any kind, which does not surprise me at all. Rahm is known to be obsessively neat, and “neat” and dogs generally don’t mix. We know, for example, from the thousands of stories written about him, that he finds it relaxing to wash the dishes after dinner and that his desk at the White House was spotless. It’s hard to imagine him walking his pooch and stooping to scoop the poop. (There’s another source of revenue that Rahm could tap: those same cops checking dogs’ collars can also keep an eye out for owners who furtively glance around and then leave their pets’ mess behind.)

His views on canines notwithstanding, Rahm is right about requiring owners to buy licenses. It takes two minutes to fill out the form, costs only $5 for a neutered/spayed dog, and there’s no need to search the junk drawer for pliers to attach a tag to the dog’s collar. Almost by return mail comes a small circle that adheres to the rabies vaccination tag; it’s as easy as pasting that license plate sticker on a car. The benefits to everyone are many, but, first and foremost, getting the decal requires that the dog be vaccinated against rabies.


Photograph: Esther Kang