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The First Puppy's Journey to the White House

Take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce about White House pets from the past.

Penny's blessed event took place at the Stern place Oct. 9: Ten--count 'em, 10!--puppies in one litter. The Sterns, whose operation is called Amigo Portuguese Water Dogs, give theme names to each of their litters, and being fans of then-candidate Barack Obama, they dubbed this one the Hope and Change Litter.

Soon, Martha Stern says, Kennedy was sniffing around for another pup. He had his eye on a curly-haired one named Amigo's New Hope, she said. But she talked him out of it because she thought a "less pushy" wavy-haired dog would be a better fit for the Kennedy family, which already had two older Porties.

So, another puppy from the litter -- eventually named Cappy -- went to the Kennedys, said Stern, who was particularly empathetic to Kennedy's battle with brain cancer because she is in chemotherapy for lung cancer. And, while no one knew it at the time, Amigo's New Hope was on his way to the White House, but not without some twists and turns.

Porties typically sell for as much as $2,000 apiece, and the other nine dogs in the litter went fast: one to Alexandria, one to Dallas, several to Austin and several more to Houston. (The owners haven't been notified, by the way, that their puppies are now relatives of the First Puppy. But one already figured it out from a newspaper photo. Art Stern said that owner's 10-year-old daughter plans to send a letter and a photo to Sasha, 10, and Malia, 7, with the message: "Ours is pretty nice, we hope yours is, too.")

Like all the Sterns's pups, Amigo's New Hope underwent a "temperament test," Art Stern said. They checked whether he would freak out when an umbrella was opened in front of him or when there was a loud noise. Amigo's New Hope did well, Art Stern said -- not too shy, not too aggressive.

Eventually he was placed with a woman in Washington, Stern said. She renamed him Charlie. Alas, it wasn't to be a happy home.

The woman -- who has not been identified -- has an older Portie, Martha Stern said, and that playful little scamp Charlie was getting on the other dog's nerves. Charlie thought the older dog might be his mommy, and even attempted to nurse, Stern said. Finally, early in March, the woman decided enough was enough.

Charlie needed to find a new home.

Portie breeders tend to be a careful lot, and they insist on finding new homes for unwanted pups to assure they don't end up in shelters. Rejected by his first family, Charlie was about to set on a journey that took him to The First Family.

Kennedy's wife, Victoria, suggested he would be perfect for the Obama girls, the Sterns said. Arrangements were made for Charlie to be tutored in good manners by Dawn Sylvia of Merit Puppy Training , in Hume, Va.


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