Vetting Obama’s Canine Companion

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jul 2, 2008 3:15pm

ABC News’ Lindsey Ellerson Reports: As President Harry Truman once wisely noted, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have suggested that whether or not they live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year, they will take the former president’s advice.

The Obama family has used the promise of a pet as a bargaining chip in asking their daughters, Malia, 9 and Sasha, 7, for their support during the long campaign season.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) took it upon themselves to offer the Obamas some guidance in finding the appropriate canine friend.

The AKC is asking Americans to cast a vote for the best qualified "first pet" for the Obama family, limiting the list of selections to hypoallergenic breeds because of Obama’s daughters’ allergies. The public has been given five solid canine choices including the Bichon Frise, the Chinese Crested, the Poodle, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier and the Miniature Schnauzer.

Click HERE to vote.

“The breeds we’ve chosen for the Obama family represent a variety of sizes, energy levels and temperaments, yet all are well-established in their coat type, to ensure that they are a good match for any allergy sufferer,” says AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson. “Dogs that are AKC registered have pedigrees reaching back often hundreds of years, and so the characteristics that make them better companions for allergy suffers are fixed through decades of breeding for consistent breed type and predictability.”

It’s important for the public to evaluate several characteristics when choosing a presidential pup. As a presidential pet, the dog will need to be well behaved during its potential interactions with high public officials, a good travel companion, given the busy White House schedule and in the case of the Obama family specifically, small enough that the young girls are able to walk the dog. Thus far, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier has been voted the premier choice, but the public has until August 19 to cast a ballot.

While the Obamas have decided a dog will be a part of their family, the timing is still up in the air.  During a May appearance on Good Morning America, the couple was asked whether their two daughters had yet to receive the dog they were promised.

Sen. Obama responded that Malia and Sasha have "a year to test whether they are sufficiently responsible," but was cut off by his wife who insisted, "They are responsible…we’re getting a dog."

When Obama replied that he was concerned about who would be the official pet walker, the potential first lady said, "You will. You will all be walking the dog."

"Okay. All right," Obama conceded.

The AKC chose to focus on canine candidates for the Obamas as the McCain household is already bustling with animals.

"Obama is warming up to having a canine cabinet member in the White House," says Daisy Okas, also a spokesperson for the AKC. "But, we already know that if McCain wins we’re going to have a very pet-friendly president."

According to the Associated Press, the presumptive Republican nominee has at least two dozen animals, including several McCanines: two Yorkshire Terriers named Lucy and Desi, an English Springer Spaniel named Sam, and a mixed-breed named Coco. For a look at the breeds that the McCain family favors, click HERE.

But, the Senator’s house is home to more than just dogs. The McCain family is said to have a ferret, three birds and 13 fish. In the early days of the 2008 race, when the field was flooded with candidates from both sides, McCain topped the list of presidential hopefuls with the most pets.

It has certainly been presidential precedent to have a dog in the White House.  In fact, while in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was so attached to his Scottish terrier, Fala, that it was only fitting that the faithful dog be depicted next to his master at the Roosevelt Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Many presidents have also turned to pets during times of trouble. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it was thought that President Bill Clinton sought refuge in his chocolate Labrador Retriever, Buddy and President Gerald Ford also turned to his Golden Retriever Liberty after his controversial pardon of former President Richard Nixon.

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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