During the waning dog days of last summer, perhaps the most important looming decision facing Barack Obama was choosing a dog for his girls. Way back, as he set out on this quest for the Presidency, he made the one campaign promise he absolutely could not break: that when it was all over, whatever the outcome, his daughters could get a dog. And if they ended up at Pennsylvannia Avenue the pup would certainly not be the first dog or pet in the White House so would have a long legacy of presidential pets to follow and live up to.
"Things have changed since the days when George Washington could name his hounds Drunkard, Tipler and Tipsy. Warren Harding's Airedale Laddie Boy had a valet and occupied a hand-carved chair at Cabinet meetings. Ulysses S. Grant told his White House staff that if anything happened to his son's beloved Newfoundland, they'd all be fired. Teddy Roosevelt had, along with a badger, a toad, some snakes and a pig, a bull terrier named Pete who once ripped the pants of a French ambassador. Cousin Franklin's dog Fala had a press secretary, starred in a movie and was named an honorary private in the Army. George H.W. Bush's springer spaniel Millie wrote a book, which sold more copies than the President's autobiography. And then, of course, there was Checkers. Harry Truman supposedly once said, You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog." (By Nancy Gibbs/TIME)
It's hard enough to pick the right dog. But adding the fact that you may be the First Family and need a hypoallergenic breed increases the difficulty of the process. So the American Kennel Club (AKC), hoping to help ensure the 23rd purebred dog into the White House, conducted a survey. The public could even vote online, for the AKC survey, for the type of dog they thought the Obamas should get, and other groups sponsored similar surveys. Since first daughter Malia has allergies, the AKC limited the ballot choice to five hypoallergenic breeds. It suggested the bichon frise with its history as a companion to French noblemen implying qualification of the breed for the White House. But perhaps it was not the exact image the Obamas were looking for. It recommended the miniature schnauzer as an excellent watchdog, for a little added security (although probably not needed), and the soft-coated wheaten terrior with its sweet-temperament as a positive goodwill ambassador, though it "must be handled firmly and with consistency," which also may not have been the ideal characteristic choice for the candidate of Change.
The AKC's preference for purebreds, however, missed the obvious stellar opportunity for the Obamapup. Surely a self-proclaimed postpartisan reformer, who promised to 'reach across the aisle', would lean toward some stunningly blended mutt, a rescued shelter dog or at least one of the American Canine Hybrid Club's 500 plus registered hybrids. After all, the hybrid pooch or designer dog was bred to give you the best of both breeds: a Labradoodle, a Peke-a-Poo, a Bagle (half basset, half beagle) or a Chiweenie (half chihuahua, half dachshund). A bully pulpit seeking candidate might even like the Bullypit (a bulldog-pit-bull mix), or he could go for a Sharmatian-part Chinese Shar-Pei, part Dalmatian-and get the whole East-and-West, black-and-white thing going on in one single pooch.
There was even a suggestion during the campaign, that their decision for a type of dog, if not actually getting one before the election, should be moved up, given the competition from the 'McCainines'. An AP-Yahoo News poll last June (2008) found that pet owners favored John McCain over Barack Obama, 42% to 37%, with an even bigger margin among dog owners. One poll participant explained that it "tells you that they're responsible at least for something, for the care of something." Or, in the McCains' case, "many somethings". The McCain menagerie includes a slew of fish, some parakeets, turtles Cuff and Link, Oreo the cat and four dogs, including terriers Lucy and Desi. Obama was able to take comfort in his 14-point lead among non-pet owners, except that they form a definite minority of U.S. households.
The Obamas were pre-warned, that although a good one, they were definitely looking at another major life change by getting a dog for the first time. "A dog was never an option in the apartment where I grew up", said Obama, "and my daughters knew that training the dog they so desperately wanted was nothing compared with training me to accept one".
Well it is now two and a half months into the presidency and still no first dog, and it seems like the whole world, at least the pet loving world, is waiting for their choice and the arrival of the first pooch. The word from First Lady Michelle is April, after their Spring Break family vacation, and possibly a Labradoodle or Portuguese Water Dog (or hound)... and not a puppy (which could mean that in the end the AKC got their next purebred into the White House after all). Odds are on the Portuguese Water Dog, which Senator Ted Kennedy, whose niece Caroline got a pony while in the White House, highly recommended. He has two. Their coat is a single layer and does not shed. In most cases, these dogs are hypo-allergenic, making them a good choice for those that have allergies.
So, there will be a new pooch frolicking on the South Lawn by the end of this month.
The next obvious question for speculation, of course, is the perfect name for the next first dog. Some suggest the Obamas should just get two, one for each of the girls, and call them Hope and Change. Of course there are others that suggest getting two dogs but calling them Smoke and Mirror or Fear and "Quo", for Status Quo, would be the best call, but that would be a subject for another type of blog or article.