Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, trainer of Bo, the Obamas' White House dog, dies at 52

Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz , who also trained the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's three canines, co-authored
Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz , who also trained the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's three canines, co-authored "The Love That Dog Training Program." (Courtesy Of Workman Publications)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Friday, January 14, 2011; 10:13 PM

Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, 52, a dog trainer whose well-behaved subjects lived among Washington's political elite, including the families of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy and President Obama, died Jan. 12 at Fauquier Hospital.

She was leading dog training classes days before her death. After being admitted to the hospital, she went into a coma and died of respiratory distress, her friends said.

Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz started training Bo, the Obama family Portuguese water dog, at the suggestion of Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Massachusetts Democratic senator. The Kennedy family had sent its three dogs, Splash, Sunny and Cappy, to be trained by her and had been pleased with the results.

"She had a wonderful presence," Vicki Kennedy said Friday in an interview. "They would instantly look up to her."

Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz worked with the Obama family dog for months before she found out who its intended owners were. Kennedy had only requested that Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz observe whether the dog would be suitable for a very busy family with two young daughters.

"I trained and lived with him as he were one of my own," she told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star in 2009. "He's sweet and cuddly, and he pays attention to you."

Bo was an attentive student who never disappointed Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz by messing up the carpet.

"I had not one accident ever," Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz said of Bo and Cappy. "It's been years since I had one like that - a bladder you would kill for."

Dawn Susan Sylvia was born on Feb. 16, 1958, in Rhode Island. She moved to the Washington area in her early 20s and married Paul Stasiewicz, an Alexandria dentist.

At one point, she had three infant children, five dogs, two ferrets, four Siamese cats, several rabbits and hamsters, and one snake. She also owned two talking parrots, Jules and Maude.

In her 2010 book, "The Love That Dog Training Program," written with Larry Kay, Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz wrote about how Bo had taken a particular liking to Maude.

The African grey would crawl down from her perch, stick her beak through the wire door of her cage and squawk: "Gimme a kiss, arrh. That's nice!"

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