This man's best friend comes from Maryland Puppy: The president's new pooch, born and bred on the Eastern Shore, is on his way to helping fill the Clintons' empty nest.

December 12, 1997|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Finally, a local boy in the Oval Office. And he even comes when you call him.

President Clinton's new dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever, is a Marylander, born and bred by the bay. An Eastern Shore original.

No native of the state has ever been commander-in-chief. But if a Marylander can't be president, at least for now he can sit on one -- all thanks to Tony and Hope Harrington, Easton residents who brokered the dog deal for their pals the Clintons.

The dog's mission: to cheer his masters now that their only child, Chelsea, has left them for college. Tony Harrington, a one-time Clinton campaign lawyer, suggested the idea of a puppy to Hillary Rodham Clinton during a chat last summer in which she bemoaned her soon-to-be empty nest.

"The first lady said she was quite interested in getting the dog, and it just took off from there," says Harrington, a partner at the Washington firm Hogan & Hartson. "And, I must tell you, it's a great puppy. It's just exceptionally cute and affectionate."

Alas, the dog is in seclusion, so we'll have to take his word for it. Here is what we do know. It is a he -- the leader of the free world wanted a boy -- Hope Harrington says.

Mrs. Harrington, who is president of the Talbot County school board, says the pooch and the prez are positively smitten with each other. The pair, she says, made an instant connection.

"He was kissing [Clinton] and running after him as he called him and giving him little licks," she said of a recent South Lawn encounter. "He loves the president -- that was obvious."

The Harringtons say they are giving the dog, a purebred, to the first family as a present. The presidential puppy comes from an Eastern Shore breeder and is the nephew of the Harringtons' own Lab. The dog will move into the White House permanently after it undergoes intensive obedience training, which Hope Harrington and her friends are helping to oversee.

Our Marylander will have to learn good bathroom manners, since he is already a media star. After the news of the new White House resident broke Saturday, it took only hours for the dog to go global.

"Puppy Replaces Chelsea" screamed the headline in Canada's Calgary Herald. In London, the Daily Telegraph looked for conflict with the Clinton cat: "Chocolate Puppy Moves in on Sox." The Independent sought deeper meaning: "Is the President feeling his age to the point where he is giving up jogging for dog-walking?" German and French news agencies were also quick on the case.

Newspapers across this country, of course, are running with the dog story as well. The White House said yesterday that the president would consider all the suggested dog names pouring in from around the country. USA Today, CNN and ABC are running name-that-dog contests on the Internet. The ABC News Web site received 2,700 entries in less than a day, including: Hershey (the No. 1 pick, pegged to the pooch's color), Barkansas, Liberty, Hillbilly and Big Mac.

Already, some journalists are resisting the urge to ooh and aah over the cuddly image of a president and his faithful friend. In her column in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd dispatched the two of them in one breath: "Now Bill just wants to sit around with his hearing aid and beloved dog and tell long stories," she wrote.

Meanwhile, our native son is providing endless comic material. David Letterman modeled an entire Top 10 list on the puppy's major complaints. No. 10: Whenever you bury a bone, president digs it up and eats it. No. 8: Much too easy to mistake Al Gore for a tree.

One might think it is about time for the dog to come out of hiding and defend itself. But it has not so much as shown its mug except in a White House photo demanded by the press corps.

Although the puppy has yet to meet the public, the personalities of such dogs are well-known. Labradors come in two basic character types, breeders say: Some are Type A overachievers, sort of like Clinton. The rest are Type B, more along the lines of, say, the president's brother, Roger, the would-be recording star.

If the Clinton pup turns out to be a Type A, trainers say, it will look to the president as its "pack leader." That is sort of like the job Clinton already has.

"If [Labs eat] before the pack leader, if they sleep on the bed where the pack leader sleeps and can get anything, then the dog is in control, not the pack leader," notes Jeannette Hutchison, a Cordova trainer who says brown Labs can be extra-obstinate. "That's no good."

Plenty of trainers on the Eastern Shore know how to straighten out rambunctious dogs. Labrador breeding is a tradition there, with many of the animals trained for duck and dove hunting. The chocolate Labs, which sell for upward of $350, are known for their smarts.

Given all the photo-ops the puppy is likely to generate, he may well inspire a cult following for -cocoa-colored Labs. Just ask Hope Harrington. Lately, she has been succumbing to their charms. She's even harboring dark thoughts of dognapping.

"I was driving the puppy back from the White House -- he was exhausted from his romp with the president, and he slept all the way to Easton," she says. "He was just such a dear, sweet little thing. I thought, 'Gosh, if circumstances were different, I'd want him for myself.' "

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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