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The first pooch scoop: It's a Portie from Kennedy

The Obama family gets to know their Portuguese water dog, which daughters Sasha and Malia have named Bo. The puppy was a gift from Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has three “Porties.”

White House photo by Pete Souza

The Obama family gets to know their Portuguese water dog, which daughters Sasha and Malia have named Bo. The puppy was a gift from Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has three “Porties.”

WASHINGTON — Who let the dog out? That's the Washington mystery du jour.

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The identity of the first puppy — the one that the Washington press corps has been yelping about for months, the one President Barack Obama has seemed to delight in dropping hints about — leaked out Saturday. This despite White House efforts to delay the news until the big debut planned for Tuesday afternoon.

The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-lovin' senator himself, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Malia and Sasha named him Bo; their cousins have a cat named Bo and first lady Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said. (Get it? Bo … Diddley?)

Bo's a handsome little guy. Well suited for formal occasions at the White House, he has tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws and a rakish white goatee.

Clearly, the identity of the dog was information too big to contain. A mysterious Web site called FirstDogCharlie.com published a puppy picture Saturday morning, complete with a Q and A with the dog, which it said was originally named Charlie. The celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com linked to the picture. So much for the big White House unveiling.

The affair was another hard lesson for Obama's tight-knit team, which had considerable success at controlling information and leaking tidbits to different news outlets during the campaign. But once Obama took office, that proved more difficult.

So it went with Bo's story.

In mid March, word on the street was that the White House was going to plant a vegetable garden. A Washington Post food reporter was making calls, inquiring, pushing. But the White House was mum. Word filtered out that the exclusive had been promised to the New York Times. But the White House offered this: The puppy exclusive is the Post's.

The newspaper that cracked Watergate was happy to have the puppy story.

The puppy deal seemed to be holding up. Sure, reporters here and there nipped at the story. There were hints that the puppy was a gift. There were reports that the Kennedys were involved.

Then came Saturday morning. The FirstDogCharlie site included a photograph of a Portuguese water dog that looked exactly like the dog in a White House photo, right down to the colorful lei.

A secret get-acquainted session was held with the family at the White House a few weeks ago. The visit, known around the White House as "the Meeting," was a surprise for the girls. Bo wore a lei then, too.

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, though he was raised elsewhere, already has a keen sense of who's in charge inside the Beltway. When the president walked across the room during the visit, Bo followed obediently.

Some issues remain to be resolved. Where, for instance, will Bo sleep? The White House has plenty of rooms to choose from, but the great question of whether he'll get to bunk with one or both of the girls remains undecided.

All of this is new to the first family. Sasha and Malia have never had pets. And neither the first lady nor the president had dogs growing up.

During the campaign, word surfaced that Obama had promised a dog to his girls. The Labradoodle and the Portuguese water dog were always in the running because they are considered good pets for children who have allergies, as Malia does.

The choice of a Portie raised one complication. The Obamas have long said they wanted a rescue dog. But the carefully bred Porties almost never end up in shelters. Bo had been living with another family, but it wasn't a good fit, so the Kennedys acquired him for the Obamas.

As for the rescue pledge, the Obamas came up with a solution intended to lend a serious symbolic note: They will make a donation to the D.C. Humane Society.

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Not for every family

Just in case Portie-mania ensues — how could it not, after all this buildup? — a White House staffer warns that Porties "are not for everyone. They're very energetic. They play, play, play. Then they sleep." They also need a lot of room to run. Fortunately, the White House has a lot of lawn.

The first pooch scoop: It's a Portie from Kennedy 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 11:13pm]

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