Obama family accepts a “second chance” dog from Ted Kennedy
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2009:
WASHINGTON D.C.– Massa-chusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and his
wife Victoria in early April 2009 ended months of speculation that
President Barack Obama and family would adopt a shelter dog for
daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, by giving the Obamas a
purebred Portuguese water dog– not a shelter dog, but a “second
chance” dog, who was returned to the breeder after reportedly
failing in at least one previous home.
Originally named Charlie, according to the anonymous
FirstDogCharlie web site that leaked the news on April 10, 2009,
the dog was renamed Bo by the Obamas.
Charlie/Bo reportedly came from Amigo Portuguese Water Dog
Kennels near Dallas/Forth Worth, where the Kennedy family’s own
three Portuguese water dogs–Sunny, Splash, and Cappy–were whelped.
“There’s lots of stuff that didn’t leak out, including a
secret get-acquainted session with the family at the White House a
few weeks ago,” reported Washington Post staff writer Manuel
Roig-Franzia. Roig-Franzia had been promised a scoop, but was two
days behind the web in disclosing the basics.
“The visit, known around the White House as The Meeting,
was a surprise for the Obama girls,” Roig-Franzia wrote. “Bo wore a
lei. Bo charmed the First Family, a source who was there said. He
sat when the girls sat, stood when the girls stood. He made no
toileting errors and did not gnaw on the furniture. Bo has been
receiving lessons in good behavior from the Kennedys’ dog trainers at
a secret, undisclosed location outside Washington.
“The choice of a Portie raised one complication,”
Roig-Franzia acknowledged. “The Obamas have long said they wanted a
rescue dog. But Portuguese water dogs almost never end up in
After accepting the gift dog from the Kennedys, the Obamas
pledged to make a donation to the Washington Humane Society.
“I think all of us who work trying to place homeless animals
had hoped that they would choose a shelter dog,” spokesperson Steve
Gruber of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City Animals told Ellen
Wulfhorst of Reuters. “Choosing a shelter dog would have been a
really powerful message to the American people.”
Added Antonia Kwalick, adoption coordinator for the
Infinite Hope rescue group in Brooklyn. “It would have been good for
the girls to actually walk into a shelter to see how many animals
need homes. They should have set a better example.”
Often bitter rescuer response tended to overlook that the
Kennedys rather than the Obamas took the long-delayed initiative in
acquiring Bo, and made a point of buying a dog who had some “rescue
pedigree,” after scouts failed to find a suitable Portuguese water
dog in a shelter. The Obamas wanted a Portuguese water dog because
the breed has a reputation for not provoking allergic response–a
problem for Malia.
“This decision to buy a dog from a breeder will be
responsible for the upcoming deaths of thousands of animals,” fumed
one prolific online poster. “First because buying from a breeder
will now be elevated and emulated, with Obama as a model. Second
because the idea of saving an animal from a shelter will be degraded.
Third, because more animals will be bred by breeders. And fourth
because more ‘bred’ animals will eventually be dumped and killed.”
Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle struck a
more moderate note. “With all the shelter talk, Obama set high
expectations,” Pacelle acknowledged. “He and the First Lady acted
responsibly in postponing any decision about a dog until they were
well settled in their new home, an approach we recommend to
potential adopters. The Obamas’ decision disheartened animal
advocates. But the dog was a second-chance dog. And we’re happy for
Sasha and Malia, who have been exceedingly patient.
“Nonetheless, the disappointment in America among our
supporters is palpable,” Pacelle added. “I’ve been getting lots of
e-mails from folks who feel passionately that an opportunity was
squandered to help shelters and the animals in them. Obviously, there
is no one to provide a better example to the American public than
President Obama, and no one better to say there’s not a thing wrong
with dogs at shelters.
“So be disappointed,” Pacelle advised, “but don’t despair
for long. Hold him accountable to make other decisions that will have
enormous implications for animals. He can still laud shelters and
speak about the urgency of supporting them. He can get Bo neutered.
He can actively support policies that crack down on puppy mills,
eradicate Class B dealers [who sell random-source dogs to
laboratories], enforce laws against dogfighting, promote
regulations to ensure safe food for our companion animals, and much
As to how much breeders might benefit from the Obama dog
acquisition, Linda Brown of Wolf Den Kennel in Chester County,
Pennsylvania offered a dissenting perspective.
“I thought when Joe Biden bought a puppy from me, what an
honor,” Brown told NBC reporter Karen Araiza. “”Never, never,
Brown said she spent $4,000 in legal fees to successfully
contest citations for alleged violations of animal welfare laws that
followed her moment of fame, and was harassed constantly by