Obama: New Pooch Needs to Be Allergy-Friendly and, Hopefully, From a Shelter

Joking that the topic of his daughters' puppy-to-be has garnered as much attention as anything else since Election Day, Barack Obama described the family's selection process today at his first news conference as president-elect.

Between addressing his plans for the economy and his transition to the White House, Obama noted that whatever dog they get will have to be hypoallergenic so as not to aggravate daughter Malia's allergies.

He also confirmed that the family's intention is to adopt a dog from a shelter, although Malia's medical concerns may preclude that.

"But, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts, like me," Obama said. "So, whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."

Obama was minutes into his acceptance speech Tuesday when he vowed to make good on his campaign promise to get his daughters a dog.

Now it seems everyone has an opinion on what kind of pooch the Obamas should get and where they should get it.

It's a big decision. Many White House dogs -- most presidents have had at least one -- become celebrities in their own rights.

With the help of former first lady Barbara Bush, President George H.W. Bush's springer spaniel, Millie, wrote her own best-selling book on daily goings-on at the White House.

And the public fawned over pictures of the Clintons' lively chocolate Labrador retriever Buddy, pet followers grieved over the dog's death in 2002, when Buddy was hit by a car near the former first couple's New York home.

Some White House dogs are much more than just pets. In many cases, the presidential pet helps shape the president's image with the public.

Stanley Coren, author of "The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events," has extensively researched the role of White House dogs and said presidents and their families have used dogs for everything from companions to sounding boards to publicity props.

Both Bush presidents are "very doggy people," Coren said. "They bring their dogs with them everywhere."

The first President Bush even installed dog-treat dispensing gumball-type machines at Camp David so his dogs were never more than 50 to 60 feet away from a snack. Likewise, the younger Bush often travels with his dogs.

But for all Buddy's fans, the Clinton dog was intended only as a prop, Coren said, to enhance the image of the family, pre-Monica Lewinsky scandal, after Chelsea Clinton left for college. The Labrador retriever was picked in 1997 because it was the most popular family dog and the chocolate variety was selected, he said, because black Labs don't photograph well and yellow Labs were thought to be so beautiful that they might have distracted photographers from the Clintons themselves.

Messages left with Clinton spokespeople were not returned.

"For some people in the White House, dogs are nothing more than a symbol," Coren said, noting that Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Herbert Hoover used dogs as campaign tools to appeal to the common man.

Picking the Obama Dog

But while the Bush and Clinton canines were intended, one way or another, to be companions for the president, the Obama family dog will belong to his young daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.

"What he really needs is a sucky-face dog," Coren said. "A dog that comes up and kisses everyone."

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