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Picking the First Pooch: Outdoors dogs should be left off the ballot

Actor Susan Sarandon tries to convince President-elect Barack Obama and his family that he should get a Pomeranian Maltese mix like her dog Penny. But she said Obama would prefer a larger breed.

Courtesy of Susan Sarandon

Actor Susan Sarandon tries to convince President-elect Barack Obama and his family that he should get a Pomeranian Maltese mix like her dog Penny. But she said Obama would prefer a larger breed.

It seems everybody is weighing in on what kind of dog President-elect Barack Obama should get when he moves into the White House.

Being an outdoors writer, I'm partial to hunting dogs, which include various hounds, gun dogs, feists, terriers and curs.

Mr. Obama has done an admirable job of picking the best and brightest to serve on his Cabinet, so I am sure he has some of the nation's top canine authorities advising him on what has the potential to become a matter of national security.

While I do not presume that I could influence the good Senator from Illinois in a matter of such importance, I do hope that as a student of history, he does not make the same mistakes that I have made in choosing man's best friend.


One of my sisters found this Newfoundland-St. Bernard puppy wandering a college campus and brought it home to join the half dozen or so dogs and cats already inhabiting the Tomalin abode.

The cute, cuddly ball of fur, however, got big — real big — and soon tipped the scales at more than 125 pounds, which is why my mother banished it to a dog house.

This beast would have made a great sled dog, like Buck in The Call of the Wild, except we lived in New Jersey, not Alaska, so the only pulling he did was boys on bikes.

Nicki also liked to bust loose now and then to terrorize a local junior high school. He'd run up and down the halls barking until somebody called the fire department.

He also had a weakness for show dogs, once even jumping through a neighbor's screen door in pursuit of a poodle in heat, something my poor mother tried to explain away, mistakenly thinking that the dog had been "fixed."

My father was supposed to take the big guy to the vet to get neutered, but at the last minute, he had a change of heart, so we just drove to the Stewart's root beer stand, pounded a couple of cold ones, then returned home, pretending the mission had been accomplished.

Besides being an after-hours amorous adventurer (and we don't need any more of that in the White House), this dog was also a drooler, which could prove embarrassing, especially when greeting heads of state.


While some have suggested that the Obamas consider a Labrador retriever, a breed known for its loyalty and good demeanor with children, I beg to differ.

Over the years, I have owned several of these "gun dogs," and while they have proved good companions, they also are quite capable of triggering an international incident.

Skeeter, another stray that found itself into the Tomalin home, had a voracious appetite. This dog once ate a pound of bacon and a pound of butter in less than 60 seconds, wrappers and all.

A little on the wild side, Skeeter could exploit the tiniest crack in the front door, then take off chasing mail trucks, police cars, etc.

She had a particular dislike for the orange-suited members of the Middlesex County Mosquito Extermination Commission, who every spring and summer would come to spray the swamp in the woods behind my house.

One day, this normally gentle Lab worked herself into a uncontrollable frenzy, like a timber wolf that has smelled blood, and cornered two county workers atop their truck. My mother ran after the dog, broom in hand, yelling, "Skeeter! Skeeter!"

Those poor mosquito exterminators thought she'd gone mad, the Crazy Lady of Dorset Way, swatting mosquitoes with a broom.

Sure, when properly trained, Labs make good work dogs, unless of course you get a crazy one like Skeeter. And the last thing we need is some mad Lab to latch onto the bumper of the Russian foreign minister's limousine and set off World War III.

So please, Mr. Obama, when picking your pooch, stay away from the traditional outdoor breeds. Instead, choose a dog — such as my sister Susan's Pomeranian Maltese mix — that you would be embarrassed about if your basketball buddies saw you walking it. You might take a little ribbing, but we will all be better off.

What kind of dog would you suggest? E-mail Terry Tomalin at

Picking the First Pooch: Outdoors dogs should be left off the ballot 01/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 1:26pm]
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