Choice of First Dog Is Narrowed to 2 Breeds


From The New York Times Politics Blog
Sharon Otterman

The Obamas are nearing a decision on one of the most closely watched appointments of the new administration: the breed of the First Dog.

As President-elect Barack Obama prepared to appear on ABC’s Sunday morning show, “This Week,” the Obama girls, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, who had joined him in the studio, asked the host George Stephanopoulos to slip the following question into his interview: “What kind of a dog are we getting and when are we getting it?”

Mr. Obama laughed when he got the question. “They seem to have narrowed it down to a Labradoodle or a Portuguese water hound,” he said. The next step, he said, was to canvass shelters to see if they could find one of those breeds as a rescue.

“We’re closing in on it,” he said, adding, “This has been tougher than finding a Commerce secretary.” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Mr. Obama’s original nominee for the post, recently dropped out, citing a federal “pay-to-play” investigation into his administration.

The identity of the First Pooch is just one of the many personal issues facing the First Family as it settles into Washington. Mr. Obama said that the family was also planning to visit a number of churches to find one they found comfortable — a challenge, in part, because of the inevitable entourage of security and press that will accompany them to worship services. The Obamas also announced Friday that Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, 71, will be moving into the White House.

One family matter that seems to be hitch-free is the transition of the girls to their new Washington private school, Sidwell Friends.

“They seemed to thrive,” Mr. Obama said of their first week at the school. “I’m trying to figure out why it is that they don’t seem to be fazed by anything. People think — you know, folks think I’m cool. They are a lot cooler than I am. They just don’t seem to be intimidated.”

As has been widely discussed, Malia, 10, is allergic to dogs, so the Obama family has been focusing its search on breeds with the reputation of being easier on those with allergies.

Though no dog is 100 percent non-allergenic, some breeds shed less than others, and therefore release less dander — the cause of common dog allergies.

The Portuguese water dog, which doesn’t shed, is among the breeds the American Kennel Club recommends for those with allergies. A seafaring breed that has been known for centuries along the Portuguese coast, “it was prized by fishermen for a spirited, yet obedient nature, and a robust, medium build that allowed for a full day’s work in and out of the water,” the Kennel Club writes on its Web site.

Once used for tasks like carrying messages between boats in the water, it is considered highly intelligent and has either curly or wavy hair. And it has an added endorsement: Senator Edward M. Kennedy owns two Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash. The two dogs frequently flank him as he walks through the halls of the United States Capitol. And Splash, an apparent genius, is also credited by the Senator with ‘writing’ a 2006 children’s book, “My Senator And Me: A Dog’s Eye View Of Washington, D.C.”

The Labradoodle, meanwhile, is a created, or designer, breed: a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle. Originally the brainchild of an Australian breeder who needed a service dog for a visually-impaired woman whose husband had dog allergies, it is now bred around the world. Its temperament is “clever, sociable, comical, joyful, energetic when free and soft and quiet when handled,” according to the Web site of the Australian Labradoodle Association of America.

The Labradoodle’s top endorsement may well be from Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is reported to own a Labradoodle named Brother. On the other hand, the Labradoodle is not among those dogs recommended by the Kennel Association for allergy sufferers because of its status as a designer breed.

“‘Designer dogs,’ often mixed with poodles, are not recommended for allergy suffers due to their unpredictable coat,” the Kennel Association wrote in a recent news release posted on its Web site when the Obama dog search became known. “There is no way to guarantee a litter will produce puppies with equal Poodle coats, making the high prices unjustifiable and the claims of these dogs being ideal misleading at best.

“A ‘designer dog’ lacks the predictability and could pose a problem for Obama’s allergy-suffering daughter,” the release says.

Notably absent from the shortlist of First Dog candidates was the goldendoodle, a cross between a golden retriever and poodle. While campaigning in Iowa in 2007, Mr. Obama had said that the goldendoodle was Malia’s top choice. There was no word from Mr. Obama on why the goldendoodle had withdrawn from consideration, though it seems a safe bet that, in this case, a federal investigation was not the cause.

Ashley Southall contributed research from Washington.


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