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CAPITAL CULTURE: The poop on White House dog Bo

EDITOR'S NOTE — An occasional look at the Obama effect in the capital and beyond
/ Source: The Associated Press

EDITOR'S NOTE — An occasional look at the Obama effect in the capital and beyond


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WASHINGTON (AP) — He has torn through magazines and stray socks, even sunk his teeth into the president's gym shoes. Charm school taught him to sit, heel and shake a paw on command. He spent his first summer vacation on breezy Martha's Vineyard.

That's just a scoop of the poop on Bo's first few months as First Dog of the United States.

Most of his dog days begin with early morning walks on the grounds with Michelle Obama, and end with a nighttime jaunt with President Barack Obama, the couple juggling their four-legged family member in shifts the way the first lady says they once handled daughters Malia and Sasha.

In between, 10-month-old Bo has playtime with the girls, meals, puppy mischief — and lots of just lying around.

Obama says walks with the family's Portuguese Water Dog are a highlight of his pressure-packed days. It's perhaps a sign of just how high-stress they are that the president even gets sentimental about the less pleasant duties of dog ownership.

"I'm the guy with the night shift," he told one television interviewer. "We go out and we're walking and I'm picking up poop and in the background is the beautifully lit White House. It's quite a moment."

Obama's daughters had asked for a dog but were told to wait until after the presidential campaign. On election night, he told them they had "earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

Immediately, it seemed everyone, everywhere, wanted information — and had an opinion. What kind of dog? When would it arrive? Would it be a shelter dog or a purebred? Would there be a message for society in the pick?

White House aides reported that the press office phones yielded far more calls breathlessly asking dog questions than about any other, weightier topic of the new presidency. Visiting Europe in early April, Obama even got a question about the dog at a forum he held in Strasbourg, France.

The Obamas quickly narrowed the range of canine choices to a Labradoodle or Portuguese Water Dog, two breeds unlikely to aggravate Malia's allergies. Obama had said he preferred to get a dog from a shelter — a mutt, essentially — but ended up disappointing animal advocates by choosing a breed rarely found in such places.

Finally, the furry black pup, splashed with white on his chest and front paws, made his debut a few days after Obama returned from the Europe trip. Bo came to the family by way of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and his wife, Vicki, who own three of the breed.

Other than sheer excitement over Bo and increased awareness of Portuguese Water Dogs, it's hard to say what his selection has meant for his kind. These dogs generally come from breeders and are not easily found in stores or shelters. That means there are no sales or adoption figures.

In just these nearly five months, though, Bo has become one of the most popular dogs around.

He won a Teen Choice Award for celebrity pet, besting Adam Sandler's bulldog Matzo Ball and Ashton Kutcher's Chihuahua Vida Blue, among other candidates. Obama introduced him as the "star of the family" at a luau on the South Lawn.

"just met the presidents dog!! so cute," tennis star Andy Roddick gushed on his Twitter page after meeting Bo. Roddick visited the White House while in town to play in a tournament.

Last week, Bo accompanied the family on Air Force One to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., for summer vacation, creating a minor sensation when he wandered into the press cabin at the rear of the aircraft on each leg of the round trip. Malia rescued him the first time, an Obama aide the second.

To meet the demand for All Things Bo, the White House is distributing a Bo baseball card that reveals, among other things, that he can't swim and his goal is to become friends with foreign dignitaries. Anyone who writes to the dog (this happens frequently) is sent one in return. Independent of the White House, there also are Bo stuffed animal toys, a story book and jigsaw puzzle.

Bo sports a blue leash that says "I (Heart) Obama," and the president mentioned Bo in the eulogy he delivered for Kennedy last Saturday.

No dog is perfect, however, not even Bo.

He has torn up at least one magazine and gone after the president's gym shoes, the first lady told an interviewer. He also has been found with a sock, which he dropped and scampered away from with a "you-caught-me" look on his furry face.

Mrs. Obama said the family is good about closing the White House's many doors to limit Bo's access. She also has taken him for lessons at a training school in the city's Georgetown neighborhood.

Bo is just the latest and furriest in a long line of presidential pets to have captivated the public.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Scottish Terrier, Fala, was widely recognizable, his presence on a train platform a sign the president was nearby. The popularity of Gerald Ford's Golden Retriever, Liberty, soared after she gave birth to eight puppies.

Millie, the Springer Spaniel who belonged to George H.W. Bush, is the only "first pet" to ever write a book (as "dictated" to Barbara Bush), the proceeds going to literacy projects. She also appeared on the cover of Life magazine after having six puppies. George W. Bush's Scottish Terrier, Barney, had his own White House Web page, where the dog's-eye-view videos he shot from a camera mounted on his collar were posted.

Now enter Bo.

At least one dog trainer wishes the Obamas would use him to highlight such issues as animal overpopulation.

Another option, says celebrity pet trainer Andrea Arden, of New York's Andrea Arden Dog Training, would be for the Obamas to become involved with programs that teach children to treat pets humanely, or to get Bo involved with work as a therapy dog.

"I like it better than Bo writing a book," she said.


On the Net:

Bo baseball card:

Portuguese Water Dog Club of America: