First Dog Bo Has Controversial Secret Missions

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The new White House canine is already having an impact on controversial animal issues while providing teachable moments for the responsibilities and benefits of family pets.

With every wag of its tail the First Dog Bo will accomplish secret missions for dogs everywhere. The White House dog will teach the Obama children and their counterparts in homes across America about compassion, responsibility, and respect for animals while providing plenty of photo-perfect fun and stress relief. But the dog has already sparked controversy and hope among people who passionately care about animals. Allen and Linda Anderson, best-selling authors of Angel Dogs with a Mission (New World Library, 2008), say, "The Obama dog will fulfill its missions as the nation's doggie trendsetter with every choice the family makes for him."

First, there was the issue of whether the Obamas would get a dog from a breeder or adopt a rescue. Not everyone agrees that rescued dogs are the way to go. The First Dog will have to earn high approval ratings to convince skeptics that oppose bringing home a dog with an uncertain lineage or past. The Obamas have settled that debate. They chose six-month-old Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, called Porties. Bo was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy and his family to the Obama children. Many animal activists are weighing on with their disappointment that the Obamas did not adopt a rescued or shelter dog. Others are expressing a more live and let live attitude. With an estimated 6 to 8 million dogs and cats in animal shelters that euthanize 3 to 4 million annually, animal lovers had hoped that the First Dog would demonstrate that rescued animals make a great family pets.

Other questions have been raised: Will the new dog be hypoallergenic enough and is there actually such a creature as an allergy-free canine? Can a Portie protect Sasha and Malia, or will the gregarious, happy-go-lucky dog be oblivious to danger?

Another secret mission of the White House dog will be to set an example for children and pets by offering the Obama children a chance to experience what it's like to have another creature depend on them.

The ASPCA's "Guide to Kids and Pets" on its website clues parents in on what to expect children of various ages to do with an adopted animal. American Humane Association states on its website, "We believe that one of the best ways to protect children and animals -- and, on a broader scale, create a more humane world -- is through humane education that teaches kindness toward other people, animals, and the environment."

In line with the axiom that children learn leadership skills and empathy by having a pet, First Lady Michelle Obama has stated unequivocally that her children will do the walking and poop scooping.
Children who implore their families to adopt a dog typically face the dilemmas of how to keep up with responsibilities of pet ownership when juggling school assignments, official activities, and thriving social lives. If Mrs. Obama succeeds in keeping her high-profile children engaged in daily dog duties, parents can point to the White House and say, "See? Sasha and Malia are taking care of their pooch."

One example of dogs having a secret mission to aid children is in Allen and Linda Anderson's book Angel Dogs with a Mission. Zoom, a Cardigan Welsh corgi, and Deb Richeson of Smithfield, Kentucky began visiting a local elementary school and offering the dog's patient listening skills to special needs students. Not only "Zoom's Kids" improved, but also the entire school's reading test scores rose. Perhaps Sasha and Malia will read school papers to the First Dog that they write at the desk in the Lincoln bedroom and be encouraged by canine appreciation. Perhaps Bo's training will include becoming a service dog so the children can take Bo to visit nursing home, vet hospitals, and others in need of dog companionship.

Some of the questions that will be raised about the First Dog are serious. The ways in which the Obamas deal with the following issues are sure to send important messages about responsible care to those homes that already contain America's 60 million dogs.

  • Considering the pet food debacle, what will the First Dog eat? Organic pet food? Wheat and corn-free? Vegetarian? What brands?
  • Will the snow and ice-melting products used on the White House sidewalks be pet-safe?
  • Does everybody know not to use cocoa mulch on the Rose Garden since chocolate is poisonous to dogs?
  • Who is in charge of patrolling the premises so plants and foods that are toxic to dogs - grapes, raisons, onions, artificially sweetened products -- aren't at drooling-mouth level?
  • Where will the Obama dog sleep at night? President Obama has already stated, "Not in my bedroom." Will Bo cuddle up with the children at night or in a crate somewhere else? Will it be the right size crate?
  • Are the Obamas using biodegradable poop bags? It might sound like a funny question but savvy environmentalists will want to know.

Then, there will be fodder for comedians and national news segments:

  • Although the dog's training process has already begun who will continue to train the most famous dog in the world not to bite reporters or will that lesson be discreetly skipped?
  • Will the dog have a Secret Service code name? What should it be?
  • Will the dog sport a diamond-studded collar and sleep on a $500 dollar doggie bed as befits his celebrity status?
  • When the Obama children have sleepovers, will friends bring their canines for doggie night out?
  • What famous person or figure from history will the dog dress as for Halloween?
  • Who will be the official White House doggie photographer?
  • Which dog toys will grace the gleaming and carpeted floors and new children's playground?
  • Does the dog's name of Bo have ethnic or historical origins? Does it more creatively top previous First Dog names such as Spot, Buddy, Millie, Lucky, Grits, Liberty, Checkers, Him and Her, Feller, Heidi, Duke, Pushinka, and King Tut?

Allen Anderson sums up the First Dog's capacity for bringing about change by saying, "Although the new White House dog will become a source of debate and emulation, one of the dog's greatest missions is just to be the First Family's pet. Relief will come when the Obamas engage in a tug-toy pull instead of wrestling with the economy and other issues. For a moment, they can relax and forget the cares of the day."

Hopefully the First Dog will unite more than divide us. After all, who can resist a cute face and unconditional love? But the dog's greatest mission may be as a pack leader for the two out of three American households with pets, so that all dogs will have good and safe homes, even if they're not living in white houses.

Allen and Linda Anderson are pet experts and authors of a popular series of books about the beneficial relationships between people and animals. Their new book, Angel Dogs with a Mission (New World Library, 2008) is available in bookstores nationwide and at Press Kit for Allen and Linda Anderson and Angel Animals Network at


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