The Love That Bo Knows

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 18, 2009

Within his first 100 days in the White House, President Obama has made several critical decisions that will live with him for some time to come: an unprecedented economic stimulus package, the bailout of the nation's financial industry, a surge of 21,000 troops into Afghanistan.

But none of his decisions comes closer to being a life-changing experience than the choice that he and his wife, Michelle, made to bring a dog into the White House.

Much has been made of the breed they chose: a Portuguese water dog. The pedigree doesn't matter. Even the mini-fuss over whether their choice is a "rescue dog" is less important.

Getting a dog was the critical step. The delight on the faces of their daughters tells the story.

As a kid, I wanted a dog. Most of my childhood friends owned dogs.

We three King kids got one, too, while we were in grade school. We named him Rex for no special reason except that it sounded cool.

When he was taken to the vet for his puppy shots, I asked about his breed -- since it wasn't readily apparent.

The vet studied Rex, smiled, and told us that our dog's breed was "all American." My father said that meant Rex had a little of everything in him.

That being the case, I told my friends that our short-haired dog with droopy ears, brown and white spots and a thin tail was part German shepherd.

Breed doesn't really matter. We loved him just the same. My wife and children also love dogs. We've had a host over the years: a German shepherd, a beagle (with an advanced case of wanderlust), two English springer spaniels and our current companions: an 8-year-old, 90-pound chocolate Labrador retriever who thinks he's a 6-month-old lap dog, and a 4-year-old, 15-pound Lhasa apso who throws her weight around as if she were a 120-pound bull mastiff.

Don't get hung up on breeds -- or names.

The Obamas' 6-month-old puppy is called Bo. We've had an array of dogs with names of absolutely no significance: Toby; Boris; Prince Maximilian von Galena Road, a.k.a. Maxie; a second Toby; the chocolate Lab, Raja (purchased as a puppy from a litter owned by Washingtonian magazine's Harry Jaffe); and the Lhasa apso, Candi (my wife's preference) or Sweetums (mine).

Names matter not: Dogs answer to whatever they're called.

What is important, to the Obama family and to anyone else out there thinking of getting a dog, is to just do it. But please don't think of your acquisition as a pet. You're getting a companion.

The Obamas have brought something dear into their lives. Unlike the Washington supplicants kissing up to the first family, Bo will love them not because of his master's title or where the Obamas live or the clothes in their wardrobe. He'll be there for them because of who they are.

In good or bad times, their dog's love will shine through. If the Obamas haven't learned it yet, they soon will find out that friendship in this oh-so-political town tends to rise and fall with the polls. Bo, on the other hand, will remain by their side simply because there is nowhere else he would rather be.

He's not going to tell the president when he screws up. Or remind the first family of their mistakes. He won't care whether Barack Obama's presidency is successful or a flop. The time may even come when the Obamas mean little to the country. But they will remain all the world to Bo.

Treated not as a show animal cared for by hired hands but as a ray of sunshine in the family quarters, a dog will repay that love tenfold with devotion.

If you leave the house to take out a bag of trash and return within two minutes, who else will greet you at the door as if you have been gone for a week? Don't expect that from the two-legged folks in your home.

A more steadfast friend the president will never have. The same for his family. As a dog owner, I know.

Now, it won't always be bouquets of happiness. Dogs do things that most people don't.

Some dogs will eat anything. Like, for example, my mother's nylon stocking. Or a $10 bill.

And when they have to go, they have to go.

A friendly word to the president: Don't leave the job of walking Bo exclusively to your wife and girls.

Commander in chief, world leader, master of all you survey -- that you may be. But when Bo needs a trip to the South Lawn, put world peace on hold, sir, and take that dog for a walk.

You can be sure he'll be there walking by your side when, as Walter Winchell once said, "the rest of the world walks out."


A correction to my March 28 column: The recipient of a D.C. government grant that I cited was not the Takoma Theatre itself but the Takoma Theatre Conservancy, a group that is seeking to purchase the historic theater at Fourth and Butternut streets NW, renovate it and operate it as a community cultural arts and education center.

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