White House Unveils Excited First Pup

Amid a media frenzy, Obamas unveil their newest family member, Bo.

ByHUMA KHAN via logo
April 14, 2009, 10:05 AM

April 14, 2009— -- Economy, what economy? President Obama put serious issues behind for a few minutes this evening when he joined his wife and two daughters to unveil the much-anticipated first pup that has grabbed headlines for months.

"He's a star," Obama said of the family's new dog Bo. "He's got star quality."

A visibly excited Bo, surrounded by clicking cameras, ran around the White House south lawn with Malia Obama, 10. Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was specifically chosen by the Obamas because the breed is hypoallergenic, and Malia is allergic.

"I finally got a friend, it took some time," the president joked to the press. "We're very pleased with Bo."

Malia was also excited, commenting, "I love him, he's perfect."

The 6-month-old black-and-white dog was a gift to the Obamas from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who himself owns dogs from the same breeder and is known to sometimes bring them to work on Capitol Hill.

As Bo traversed through the White House south lawn, 7-year-old Sasha Obama commented that she thought it was funny the breed had to be taught how to swim, given their name.

The president said the newest family member will be allowed in the Oval Office but not in his bed. When asked whether he would walk the dog, first lady Michelle Obama commented that they would all take turns walking Bo.

If the past few months are any indication, Bo is likely to stay in the spotlight while the Obamas are in the White House. But what kind of pressure is that going to exert on him?

"One of the great things about the 'portie' [the nickname for the Portuguese water dog] is that it is a very adaptable breed, so once the dog gets into a new situation or a new home, as long as he has a routine and everyone is consistent on how to handle and train the dog, it will thrive, it won't be a big issue with him," said Lisa Peterson, spokesperson for the American Kennel Club.

The Story Behind Bo

In November, then President-elect Obama said the family's preference was to get "a shelter dog."

"A lot of shelter dogs are mutts, like me," he joked at his first post-election press conference. It was one of the family's two requirements, in addition to being hypoallergenic.

But since he promised the dog to his daughters in his election night victory speech, the White House was mum on the topic, fueling speculation about the breed of and the search for the dog.

"That's top secret," Obama said as late as last week, when a reporter asked him when the first dog will arrive at the White House.

Michelle Obama told People magazine in February that she was surprised at the American people's interest in their dog search.

"One of the things I didn't anticipate is the level of the excitement about the dog. I knew my kids were excited. They've been excited for years. They've even calmed down, because they feel like, 'They said we're going to get one, so let's just shut up about it,'" she said.

Because Bo is not from a shelter, the president will donate money to the Humane Society.

Bo's first owners in Washington returned the pup to the breeder, Dallas/Ft. Worth-based Amigo Portuguese Water Dog Kennels, because he did not turn out to be a good fit for the family.

"They're not for everybody. They're 'in your face' dogs," said Art Stern, co-owner of the kennel.

The Stern family then got a call from Kennedy's wife, who thought it would be a perfect match for the Obamas. Bo has gone through various names. He is registered with the American Kennel Club as "Amigo's New Hope" and was named "Charlie" by his first owners.

Malia and Sasha renamed the pup Bo. Their cousins have a cat named Bo, and Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed "Diddley," after the guitarist and songwriter Bo Diddley. There's also speculation that the dog may have been named after the president himself, given that "Bo" spells out the president's initials.

Will getting used to a new name be a problem? Peterson said the only issue she could foresee is confusion between when he's being scolded and when the first family is simply calling his name.

"Well, one word that they use a lot with their dogs is 'no,' and Bo might [sound] similar to the word no, but you can certainly take another word like stop or drop it and the dog would understand that," Peterson said.

Energetic 'Working' Dogs

Bo's sister Chrissy is owned by a family in Virginia. Chrissy's tween owners, 13-year-old Madeline and 11-year-old Connor, say the Obama girls should be ready for a high energy.

"She's really energetic, and she's kind of the rambunctious little sister in a way," Madeline told ABC News before adding a warning for the Obama girls: "Be prepared for a high-energy puppy and to make sure to keep your stuff out of reach."

Portuguese water dogs are known for being spirited and playful. Originally from Portugal -- as their name suggests -- the breed was used by fisherman to herd fish, send messages and guard boats.

"That dog is an interesting dog. … They would actually be put into the water and they would herd fish toward the nets and… they would retrieve fish that got out of the nets and they would also take messages from the ship to the shore or the shore back to ship or from ship to ship," veterinarian Marty Becker told ABC News Now. "Talk about a working dog."

ABC News' Sarah Amos and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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