News

Portuguese water dog owners fear Obama effect

It's nothing against the Obamas. But some Portuguese water dog owners aren't thrilled the breed is a front-runner for the first family.

The choice could mean a spike in the dogs' popularity — and that could mean a rise in shady breeders and fickle owners who don't understand the dogs and eventually abandon them, owners of Portuguese water dogs say.

"There's always the danger of something like that," said Stu Freeman, president of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. "It's '101 Dalmatians' syndrome."

After that movie came out, "everyone thought, 'aren't they cute,'" ran out and bought the dogs and found out they were not quite as adorable as the ones in the movie, Freeman said.

First lady Michelle Obama told People magazine that the family is looking to rescue a Portuguese water dog in April, though her press secretary said Thursday that the decision isn't final. President Barack Obama had also mentioned a Labradoodle as an appealing choice.

"Obviously they have their favorites that the president and first lady have outlined before — with of course the Portuguese water dog being a top contender — but there hasn't been a selection yet," Katie McCormick Lelyveld said.

Portuguese water dogs were bred centuries ago to help fishermen along the Portugal coast, working as couriers, retrieving nets and diving for fish.

Even before the Obamas, the dogs' star was rising — Sen. Ted Kennedy has two.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Pete Souza

    All the presidents’ pets

    Harry Truman said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Plenty of presidents did, and other pets besides.

  • Image: Sunny, the Obama family's new puppy

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Meet Bo's new pal, Sunny -

    Bo, left, and Sunny, the Obama family's second dog, relax on the South Lawn of the White House on Aug. 19, 2013. Sunny is a 1-year-old Portuguese water dog, the same breed as Bo.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: Obama and Bo

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Bo knows politics -

    President Barack Obama runs alongside Bo, a six-month old male Portuguese water dog, in the White House April 12, 2009. The dog was a gift from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and his wife, Victoria, to the Obama girls.

    The White House / The White House
  • US President George W. Bush is followed

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    See Spot walk -

    George W. Bush’s dog Spot Fetcher follows the president toward the White House in June 2003. Named for Texas Rangers baseball player Scott Fletcher, the springer spaniel was the daughter of President George H.W. Bush’s dog Millie.)

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
  • The First Lady Shows Off White House's Holiday Decor

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Scot free -

    Scottish terrier Barney, First Dog in the George W. Bush White House, is blasé about the Christmas decorations Laura Bush is unveiling to the media in December 2003. The Bushes also have a second Scottie, Miss Beazley.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • US President Bill Clinton is greeted by his dog Bu

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Bubba and Buddy -

    President Bill Clinton gets an enthusiastic greeting from his chocolate Labrador retriever Buddy on the South Lawn of the White House in June 1999.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
  • Press photographers surround Socks, the cat who be

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Socks appeal -

    Chelsea Clinton’s cat, Socks, appears nonplused by the demands of fame as photographers surround him outside the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas soon after Bill Clinton was elected president in November 1992.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
  • George H. W. Bush

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Face time -

    Former president George H.W. Bush enjoys some face-to-face time with his wife Barbara’s springer spaniel, Millie, in Houston. The Bushes also kept one of Millie’s puppies, Ranger, as a pet.

    Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image / Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image
  • Nancy Reagan

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Cavalier attitude -

    Nancy Reagan and her dog Rex are clearly glad to see each other as the first lady returns to the White House in April 1986. Rex was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, generally considered a toy breed.

    Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image / Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image
  • Ronald W. Reagan

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    A stroke of Lucky -

    President Ronald Reagan pauses outside the White House to pet his dog Lucky in 1986. Lucky was a Bouvier des Flandres, a Flemish breed originally developed for cattle droving and sheep herding.

    Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image / Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image
  • All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Play with Misty for me -

    President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, holds her cat, Misty, as she returns to the White House after a weekend with her parents at the Camp David presidential retreat in September 1977.

    AP / AP
  • At Home In The White House

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Give me Liberty -

    President Gerald R. Ford wrestles with his golden retriever, Liberty, in February 1975. The dog was a gift from Ford's daughter, Susan, and his personal photographer, David Hume Kennerly.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • President Nixon Pets His Dogs After Speech

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Ireland, France, and Yorkshire -

    After Checkers passed away in 1964, Richard Nixon went on to the presidency and other pets: King Timahoe, an Irish setter; Vicky, a French poodle; and Pasha, a Yorkshire terrier, all shown here outside the White House in 1970.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Richard M. Nixon

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    A Checkered past -

    On September 23, 1952, then-vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon defended his personal finances in a television address that became famously known as the “Checkers speech” (because Nixon said the only contribution he kept was the dog of that name). Nixon still had the cocker spaniel in 1964, when this photo was taken.

    Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image / Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image
  • All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Fly like a beagle -

    President Lyndon Johnson raised controversy when he was photographed lifting one of his pet beagles, Him and Her, by the ears. Him sired a litter of puppies in 1965, and LBJ’s daughter kept two of them, Kim and Freckles, shown here in the president’s lap aboard Air Force One.

    AP / AP
  • KENNEDY FAMILY

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    A passel of pets -

    Macaroni was far from the only pet in the JFK family. Here Caroline and John enjoy a veritable pack of pooches while vacationing with their parents.

    AP / AP
  • Kennedy And Family

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Her little pony -

    Caroline Kennedy had something many young girls only dream of: her own pony. Here she sits atop Macaroni in March 1963 while her little brother John, her mother Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy look on.

    John F. Kennedy Library via Getty Images / John F. Kennedy Library via Getty Images
  • Watchf Associated Press Domestic News  Dist. of Col United States APHS TRUMAN FELLER 1947

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    When a Feller needs a friend -

    In December 1947, President Harry S Truman received an unsolicited gift: a cocker spaniel puppy named Feller, who poses here by the crate he came in. The pup was adopted by Truman’s personal physician.

    AP / AP
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt driving in his con

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    A jolly good Fala -

    One of the most famous of all presidential pets was Franklin D. Roosevelt's beloved Fala. Here FDR takes the Scottish terrier for a ride through Hyde Park in 1944.

    Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image / Time & Life Pictures - Getty Image
  • All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Hoover and his hound -

    President Herbert Hoover takes plenty of blame from historians for the Great Depression. But he had at least one loyal fan: his German shepherd, King Tut.

    AP / AP
  • Calvin Coolidge With Family And Dog

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Cal and his collie -

    Rob Roy, a white collie, was just like a member of the family to Calvin Coolidge. The 30th president stands next to his pet in this photo from the 1920s, along with his wife, Grace, and their two sons.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Warren And Laddie Boy

    All the presidents’ pets

    of

    Laddie and his daddy -

    Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States, had an Airedale terrier named Laddie Boy. Here they pose for photographers outside the White House, circa 1923.

    Library Of Congress via Getty Images / Library Of Congress via Getty Images

In 1998, the breed ranked 82nd in popularity, according to American Kennel Club registration statistics. Ten years later, they were ranked 62nd.

Elena Gretch, a dog trainer and owner of two Portuguese water dogs, attributes some of that to the fact that the dog is good for allergy sufferers. Malia Obama, 10, has allergies.

Michelle Obama also praised the dogs' personality and size in the People magazine interview.

"Temperamentally they're supposed to be pretty good," Mrs. Obama said. "From the size perspective, they're sort of middle of the road — it's not small, but it's not a huge dog. And the folks that we know who own them have raved about them. So that's where we're leaning."

Gretch worries that if the Obamas choose the breed, puppy mills will sprout up. The dogs cost $1,800 to $2,500 and aren't as common as other popular breeds. They're prone to hip dysplasia, so finding a good breeder is important, she said, and the dogs don't often end up in shelters for adoption.

The dogs also require a lot of attention, grooming and outdoor exercise. "It's agile, it's a great swimmer, it loves to be outdoors," said Gretch, founder of the pet care and training service It's A Dog's Life in New York City.

But Portuguese water dogs are usually not great for first time dog owners, said Freeman, because it takes experience to train them.

"These are dogs that if you don't keep them busy, they will be busy and do something you don't want them to do," he said.

Steve Brooks, a dog trainer who works with celebrities, said he's already training more Labradors, which may be the result of "Marley & Me."

After "101 Dalmatians," the shelter where Daphna Nachminovitch worked was flooded with Dalmatians. Parents broke down and bought the puppies, she said. As the puppies got older and harder to manage, the kids lost interest and the dogs ended up in shelters.

The Obamas have said they plan to adopt from a shelter, something Nachminovitch, now vice president of cruelty investigations for PETA, hopes others will keep in mind.

"With the way the economy is now, animal shelters are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of abandoned animals. It's certainly not a time to make more dogs," she said. "We have plenty of dogs in animal shelters who need a home."

TOP