updated 1/15/2011 3:00:33 PM ET 2011-01-15T20:00:33

Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, the trainer who prepared President Barack Obama's dog Bo for life as the first dog, has died.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz, 52, died Wednesday of respiratory failure at a Virginia hospital, her ex-husband Paul Stasiewicz said Saturday.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz initially had no idea the Portuguese water dog that arrived at her Virginia home two years ago was destined for life at the White House — an experience she described in a recent book.

Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, had contacted Sylvia-Stasiewicz to ask if she would determine if the 5-month-old puppy was suitable for a family with children. The Kennedys had previously trusted Sylvia-Stasiewicz with training their dogs, so the request wasn't unusual.

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When Kennedy called to check on the puppy a few weeks later, Sylvia-Stasiewicz reported the dog was perfectly suited for a family with children. Kennedy then confided she and her husband were thinking of giving him to the first family as a gift.

Even before Bo's arrival in Washington in April 2009, the puppy was much talked about. Obama had promised his daughters a dog during his presidential campaign, saying during his election night speech that the girls had "earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

'Always about the dogs,' not their owners
Besides training the president's dog and the Kennedys' three Portuguese water dogs, Sylvia-Stasiewicz also trained former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's dog Figgie. She lived in Hume, Va.

"For me, it's always about the dogs," Sylvia-Stasiewicz told USA Today in 2009. "There have been times when I've worked with people for a long time before realizing they were famous or high-profile or connected in some way."

Sylvia-Stasiewicz was born in Providence, R.I., in 1958. In the 1990s she founded Merit Puppy Training, which focused on training dogs through positive reinforcement. Her experience formed the basis for a 2010 book, "The Love That Dog Training Program," which she co-wrote with Los Angeles-based writer Larry Kay.

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As for her most well-known pupil, Bo recently spent a quiet Christmas with the president and his daughters in Hawaii. He joined in signing the family's official Christmas card with his paw print.

"I got a little teary-eyed when he left," Sylvia-Stasiewicz told St. Louis Magazine after Bo's debut. "You get attached. I drove him to the White House and just stayed in the background, because it was their moment."

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