Charles Dharapak/AP

First Dog Bo May Be Bad Choice for White House, and the Breed

April 16, 2009 07:40 AM
by Rachel Balik
Breeders worry that the Obamas’ adoption of a Portuguese water dog will increase the breed’s popularity to an unsustainable level, leading to over-breeding and then abandonment of many dogs.

Bo Obama Bodes Badly for Breeders

Breeders of Portuguese water dogs, or “Porties,” say that the dog Senator Ted Kennedy gifted to the First Family may not have been the best choice for the White House. Texas breeder Cynthia McCullough told the Dallas Morning News that the dogs are “aggressive” and not an ideal choice for children. Unfortunately, that means that Obama fans who purchase these puppies may eventually deem the dogs unmanageable and drop them off at the pound. Of course, even if there is a surge in demand, current breeders are not equipped to meet it. There are only 20,000 Portuguese water dogs in the country right now, and the genetic pool is quite small. Reputable breeders are anxious to prevent over-breeding of the dogs by the less scrupulous.

Most breeders can recall the damage done when a particular dog breed suddenly becomes a fad. For example, both the original and the remake of Disney film “101 Dalmatians” encouraged the growth of puppy mills to meet the demand for Dalmatians. Many new pet owners then found that they were not equipped to handle the animal’s characteristic high energy level and nervous temperament, and Dalmatians began turning up at shelters.

Choosing a dog that is right for your family requires research, Stu Freeman, president of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, told the Chicago Tribune. Buying a dog because it is trendy results in unhappy homes and abandoned animals.

Background: Choosing the First Pet

The country has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the White House dog ever since Obama promised daughters Sasha and Malia that his successful election meant that they could have a puppy. Many presidents of the past discussed dogs in speeches, but Obama made history by being first president to mention an animal in his victory speech. Obama had previously been pictured with a poodle named “Baby” who has served as the poster dog for the fight against animal abuse. One of the causes Baby helps draw attention to is the mistreatment of animals in puppy mills and shelters. Ironically, breeders are concerned that Bo will cause an influx of Porties at shelters.

Most people had thought that the Obamas would rescue a dog from a shelter but Bo was a gift from the ailing and esteemed Ted Kennedy. In addition, Malia Obama has allergies, and Porties are less likely to trigger a reaction.

Throughout history, pets in the White House have improved the image of presidents, but the Obamas are already so popular that they definitely risk setting off a dog breed fad. Newsweek noted that if the First Family had chosen a trendy hybrid, such as a Maltepoo or a Labradoodle, there would be similar opportunities for dishonest breeders to up sales.

Related Link: The dangers of puppy mills

Puppy mills damage the overall quality of a breed; they tend to produce dogs with health problems and don’t provide their animals with appropriate care. In addition, when purchasers prove incapable of dealing with the puppies’ problems, the dogs often end up mistreated or in pounds. In August 2008, the Wisconsin Humane Society raised money to purchase a large breeder mill and put 1,200 dogs up for adoption. In response to the Wisconsin puppy mill problem, state legislators have recently introduced a bill to regulate dog breeders.

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Reference: Portuguese Water Dogs

The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America has information about the breed, as well as news, health information and photos. There is also a PDF press release warning breeders to be cautious in light of the new first pet.

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