Presidential Pooch

Another water dog gets White House training.

When you’re President of the United States, even the innocent act of getting a dog makes headlines, good and bad. And, even when you’re President, a new dog is a big commitment.

The First Family recently adopted a second Portuguese water dog (PWD). News broadcasts worldwide showed the new addition, Sunny, romping on White House lawns with 4-year-old Bo last week. Now there are two dogs to welcome Dad home when he steps out of his helicopter after a long day at work.

Animal welfare groups didn’t waste much time condemning the President for, once again, shunning the shelter system when seeking a pet. And when the family first adopted Bo in 2009, much was made of the political motivation behind the move. Was it an attempt to humanize Obama, to provide heartwarming photo-ops for the President in troubled times? James Lebovic, one of the authors of a 2012 study, Unleashing Presidential Power: The Politics of Pets in the White House, tempered all the debate in a recent interview with the Washington Post.
“We should remember the extent to which political people have normal human needs, motives and families that drive their decisions,” Lebovic told the Post.

So, what human needs motivated the Obamas to choose Sunny? Apparently, they wanted a second dog to keep Bo company and make him more active, both worthy goals. PWDs don’t much like being alone. Although I imagine it’s hard to be alone amidst the White House cast of thousands, it might seem kind of lonely if you only speak dog.
I have only to look in our own less-than-White-House sized yard to see the value in dog number two. Cliff would be a sloth if Tate wasn’t constantly goading him into action.

From the news footage, it seems America’s First Dogs are hitting it off pretty well, but it will be important to monitor conflicts over toys, food and other doggy resources. Most dogs quickly figure out who’s boss of the pack without a lot of interference from us. Unless there’s risk of major injury, it’s often best not to send in the marines as the battles will likely continue until a victor is allowed to emerge.

Neither Sunny nor Bo were young pups when adopted; a wise choice for the busy White Household or for anyone else who can’t provide a calm, stable environment and lots of training time.

It has often been noted that the Obamas chose water dogs because they are hypoallergenic. And it has often been noted by veterinarians that there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. Non-shedding breeds such as PWDs may not set off human allergies like dogs with regular coats, but there are no guarantees. Even though Malia Obama was not allergic to Bo, she may still have reacted to Sunny.

Malia’s allergies were cited as the President’s reason for not adopting a pet of unknown heritage from the shelter, a choice preferred by many, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Yes, Canada’s equivalent to the White House is home to mongrels, but not the kind you might think. Our own First Family, it seems, are cat people. They also have a chinchilla, but that’s fodder for another column.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
August 2013