Help with a pet project Letter: A Lab-lover has some advice on caring for the newest resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


Dear Mr. President,

First, may I say what a thrill this is for me. I voted for you twice -- or maybe just once. Anyway, I contributed $25 to your campaign. And as I told that rude man from the Governmental Affairs Committee, you never once called me from the White House.

News is you now own a 3-month-old chocolate Labrador. A perfect choice, Mr. President. History will remember you for this. We understand it's a he-dog. But no name yet?

"We're in a holding pattern here," says White House spokesman Josh Silverman, who's been fielding many of the dog calls. "As soon as we get any new developments, we'll let you know."

As we await your presidential appointment of the dog's name, let's talk Labs. I have two black Labradors and feel qualified to advise you on the breed -- the most popular breed in the United States for the fifth consecutive year (the Rottweiler is second). With 14 percent of the market, the Lab is also the most popular dog in Baltimore County.

Why the Lab boom? Because the dogs are friendly, intelligent and great with kids. Children have been known to saddle up their Labs for horsey rides. For trick-or-treating, Labs have been dressed as Bat Dog, the devil and even Dracula. No surprise that the Lab has become a mascot of the suburbs -- along with the Jeep Cherokee and the "Black Dog" sweat shirt.

You know about world issues and stuff, but maybe you don't know everything about dogs. You've just had Socks, Chelsea's cat. ("No comment," Socks said recently about your Lab.) The last dog at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was President Bush's Millie, the springer spaniel and best-selling author. Heck, George Washington had 37 dogs. Monogamy wasn't his strong suit, as you know.

Before you listen to your advisers, buy a bunch of textbooks on Labradors. Read them carefully, then toss them into the recycling bin. These books say things like, "the Labrador may have a good rear with a powerful thrust from the hocks; however, if his front is faulty, the dog is not capable of doing a day's work." Which could apply to about anybody.

Labradors are constantly judged. One book says "light eyes are not attractive" and the dog "must never be cowhocked" and "the tail may be carried gaily but should not curl over the back," according to Dorothy Howe's "The Labrador Retriever."

But forget this nitpicking stuff. You want a family dog, right? If you want a trophy, join a bowling league.

Here, Mr. President, is what to expect from your Lab:

A Lab puppy will chew anything. If you have nice furniture, store it. If you have nice friends, store them. If this is possible, your Lab will eat more than you do.

As Howe wrote in her 1972 book: Labs are adaptable, willing to please, obedient and "easily meet new and different situations with suitable reactions." The Al Gore of domestic pets.

Labs will bark, all right. But in the presence of an intruder, your Lab will gaily run to get his Nylabone. Of course, you probably don't have too many break-ins at the White House.

Based on my latest research, a Lab "doesn't get its brain" until age 2. Until then, bear with him.

Labs are finicky regarding sleeping arrangements. Splurge and buy a $75 monogrammed dog bed from L.L. Bean. Then pick one side of your bed because your dog will be sleeping on the other.

Labs love to ride in cars. In fact, there's no need for those nasty air bags. Labs provide a cushion between the driver and the dashboard, since they remain glued to the driver's lap.

Again, from Lab master Dorothy Howe: "The Lab is instinctively clean, which pleases the woman of the house." Calling a dog instinctively clean is like calling a politician instinctively honest. Let's just say you both try your best.

Labs are loyal -- to a point. They have been known to heroically swim miles in freezing water while pulling a boat and its injured captain to safety. Labs will bolt, however, when subpoenaed by an independent counsel.

Labs are easily house-broken. But your pup is undergoing training before moving in. Smart move, sir. President Carter's dog, Gritts, soiled many a presidential carpet. And look what happened: Carter and Gritts were both asked to leave the White House.

This is important, Mr. President. Labradors are retrievers, hence their full name. Unless you want to spend every afternoon throwing a slimed tennis ball across the White House lawn, I recommend you and Hillary adopt at least three or four children. It takes a village to raise Labs.

Above all, good luck with your Lab and happy holidays.

Warmest regards,

R. Hiaasen, taxpayer

P.S. If you find a way to successfully brush your Lab's teeth, please call me with the details. Better yet, just write.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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