New addition to first family

April 13, 2009|By Stacy St. Clair | Stacy St. Clair,Tribune Newspapers

President Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to his daughters with their new puppy, but the decision to forgo a shelter dog is sure to leave some animal activists growling.

Bo, a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog, will make his public debut at the White House on Tuesday after months of intense speculation about his arrival. The first pooch is a gift from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who owns three Porties and wanted the Obamas to follow suit.

The housebroken puppy, which has been undergoing extensive training in recent weeks, was named Charlie by his original owners, but first daughters Malia and Sasha rechristened him Bo in honor of their cousin's cat of the same name. Their parents are said to refer to the dog as "Diddley." Obama publicly promised his daughters a puppy on Election Night, later saying the family hoped to adopt a low-shedding rescue dog because of Malia's allergies. While the Portuguese water dog fulfills the hypoallergenic coat requirement, it's debatable as to whether Bo meets the definition of a second-chance pet.

The puppy was purchased from a breeder and then given back to the kennel soon after the Obamas expressed interest in a Portuguese water dog, a source familiar with the adoption said. While Bo is technically a re-homed dog, the seemingly orchestrated return might lead some to question whether the first family violated the spirit of its initial promise.

The president and first lady reportedly plan to make a donation to the District of Columbia Humane Society in an effort to underscore their continued support of the organization and their original intentions.

"Clearly our best hope was that he [the president] would go to a shelter or a breed-rescue group," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "He didn't do that, but he also didn't go to a pet store or puppy mill either. It's a gray area."

Pacelle said his group notified the White House about several Portuguese water puppies during the first family's search, but the president opted to go with Kennedy's breeder instead.

"He had no shortage of options," Pacelle said. "This [Bo's adoption] is not a default option because he couldn't find one at a shelter."

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