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Obama dog choice put to vote in D.C. exhibit

The election is not over for museum visitors weighing in on what President-elect Barack Obama calls a "major issue" for his transition: selecting the first dog.
Presidential Pets
Children from the Early Childhood Academy Public Charter School vote for what kind of dog the Obamas should choose, part of an exhibit at the Newseum titled "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets", in Washington.Jacquelyn Martin / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The election is not over for museum visitors weighing in on what President-elect Barack Obama calls a "major issue" for his transition: selecting the first dog.

Seventh-grader Mary Grace Moran, visiting the Newseum with her class from Covington, La., cast her vote for a poodle by dropping coins in a clear, plastic tube.

"I have a poodle, and my brothers have really bad allergies," the 12-year-old said, expressing concern for Obama's sneeze-prone daughter.

Visitors are casting votes with pennies, quarters and a few dollar bills in a small exhibit on presidential pets at the Newseum, a museum about the news. (The museum, which announced a staff reduction this week, says it will use the cash for educational programs.)

'Mutts like me'
Newseum is not without guidance on the puppy issue. Obama has said the family would like something hypoallergenic, and that the family likes the idea of rescuing a shelter dog, even though "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."

So the exhibit is offering the American Kennel Club's top five recommendations for allergy-sensitive breeds — poodle, soft coated wheaten terrier, bichon frise, Chinese crested (caution: It's mostly hairless) and miniature schnauzer — along with an unspecified shelter dog.

So far, a shelter dog appears to be the people's choice, followed by the bichon frise, a small, fluffy non-shedding breed, Newseum exhibits chief Cathy Trost said.

The exhibit, "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets," opened Friday and also includes about 15 photographs and a video on presidential pets. It will remain open at least through January's inauguration.

If the Obamas are looking for doggy precedent, they could consider Scottish terriers, Labradors or mutts, all former first pets.

White House critters
More than a few presidents brought odd critters with them, too. President Theodore Roosevelt and his family had a one-legged rooster and a pony named Algonquin that once rode in the White House elevator. President William Howard Taft had a Jersey cow named Pauline.

"Animals have always been a part of White House life," Trost said on Monday. "More than 50 dogs have lived at the White House, along with alligators, goats, raccoons, parrots, you name it."

President Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace were responsible for the pair of raccoons, along with 12 dogs in their small White House "zoo."

Journalists helped make some of the pets national celebrities, Trost said. Fala, the Scottish terrier who lived with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was said to have his own press secretary.

Other pets were experts in their own right. In his race against Bill Clinton and Al Gore, President George H.W. Bush said his dog Millie "knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos."

Obama's search
The Obamas may not find a mutt with similar expertise, but experts at the Presidential Pet Museum in Williamsburg, Va., have recommended the Portuguese water dog for its "international appeal," noting that Sen. Ted Kennedy has two of them.

The American Kennel Club suggested a pair of toy poodle puppies that will be available in January. So far, though, spokeswoman Christina Duffney said they haven't heard from the Obamas.

Or the president could take it from Mary Grace, who voted for the poodle based on experience with her brothers: "It doesn't do anything to their allergies."