Bo brings a dogged optimism to White House

It was the most hotly anticipated appointment of Barack Obama's arrival at the White House. And when it leaked yesterday, the big news beat Iraq, North Korea, Somalian pirates, and even the economy off the nation's front pages: America's new "first pooch" is to be a six-month-old Portugese Water Dog, named Bo.

The curly-haired puppy, who will instantly become the most famous canine since Lassie, owes its exotic name to the President's daughters, Sasha and Malia, who chose it for two reasons: their cousins have a cat named "Bo," and Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed "Diddley."

A Portugese Water Dog does not shed hair, makes the breed suitable for ten-year-old Malia Obama, who suffers from allergies. The final decision to choose one over a Labradoodle, which would also have been acceptable, followed extensive lobbying by Senator Ted Kennedy, a keen fan of the "PWD".

"We couldn't be happier to see the joy that Bo is bringing to Malia and Sasha," said Kennedy, who owns three of Bo's relatives, and is friends with his breeder, in a statement yesterday. "We love our Portuguese water dogs and know that the girls, and their parents, will love theirs, too."

In January, Kennedy had said the breed would be "a perfect fit for the Obama family" since the dogs have "a can-do and hopeful spirit," and were smart, resilient, optimistic, determined and tireless. He is now due to be present at Bo's official handover on Tuesday, said reports.

The identity of America's "first pooch" has been an object of fascination in Washington since November, when Obama announced in his election victory speech that Sasha, seven, and Malia had been promised a puppy.

However the unveiling of Bo was not without controversy. In a surprising move, which cynics said was aimed of securing sympathetic coverage, Obama's press team apparently promised an "exclusive" on the new dog and its name to the Washington Post.

Bo was originally sold to a private owner, who returned it to the breeder, and his transfer to the Obamas will be officially described as a "re-homing," since they are unable to accept a gift. The family will also make a donation to a Washington pet rescue centre in lieu of paying for the animal.

President Obama seemed to embrace the media frenzy the quest for the new First Dog has sparked, saying "Oh man, now that's top secret!" when reporters asked about it.

Meanwhile sources in his administration gave reporters at The Washington Post an expansive briefing about Bo. And so, on Sunday, the newspaper which broke "Watergate" three decades ago was able to scoop the world to "puppygate."

"Bo's a handsome little guy. Well suited for formal occasions at the White House," read its report. "He's got tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws and a rakish white goatee."

The puppy had been introduced to the Obama family at a secret getting-to-know-you session several weeks ago, the paper revealed, and was deemed as charismatic as his namesake Bo Diddley, the father of rock-and-roll.

"Bo charmed the first family," it noted. "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, after all, been receiving lessons in good behavior from the Kennedys' dog trainers. These lessons have been taking place at a secret, undisclosed location."

And the dog “already has a keen sense of who's in charge," it added. "When the president walked across the room... Bo followed obediently."

Elsewhere, the Obamas settled another subject of long-running speculation when they used Easter Sunday to attend their first public church service in Washington. The family attended a service at the Episcopal Church of St John, across the road from the White House. The venue is a favourite for Washington's chattering classes, and has been used by many presidents, including George W Bush.

Presidential pets: Animals in the White House

*George Washington had the inaugural White House pets: two staghounds, four coonhounds, a donkey and a horse.

*When one of Theodore Roosevelt’s sons, Archie, got measles, his other son Quentin brought the family pony up in the lift to his bedside. Quentin went against presidential protocol when he borrowed snakes from a pet shop and interrupted a meeting by dropping them on the President’s desk.

*Born during Bush Senior’s presidency, springer spaniel Spotty returned to the White House when Dubya won office – making him the only pet to live through two administrations.

*When the Peruvian government gave President Calvin Coolidge a raccoon, it was intended as a culinary treat. Instead, he named her Rebecca and walked her on a lead.

*Old Whiskers, pet goat of Benjamin Harrison’s son Ben, pulled Harrison’s grandchildren around in a cart. One day the President had to run down Pennsylvania Avenue to catch them.

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