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White House Dog

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Stephanie Shain
Director of Outreach for Companion Animals, HSUS
Thursday, January 15, 2009; 1:00 PM

President-elect Barack Obama revealed last Sunday on ABC's This Week program that his family's quest for a dog has been narrowed down to two choices: Sasha and Malia will be getting either a Portuguese water dog or a labradoodle. The family hopes to get the next presidential pooch from a shelter.

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What are the characteristics of these breeds, besides being hypoallergenic (a requirement for Malia)? What happened to the idea of a "mutt, like me," as Obama mentioned in a news conference, referring to his own racial mix. How often do labradoodles and Portuguese water dogs show up at shelters?

Stephanie Shain, director of Outreach for Companion Animals at the Humane Society of the United States, was online Thursday, Jan. 15, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss these questions and more about the choice of a White House pet for the Obamas.

A transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Secret Service/Inauguration

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Stephanie Shain: Welcome!

I'm Stephanie Shain, Director of Companion Animal Outreach for the Humane Society of the United States.

We're here today to talk dogs - in particular the two kinds of dogs the Obama family have indicated they are interested in: Portuguese Water Dogs and the mixed breed "Labradoodle".

We do see these dogs in shelters and rescues so it seems the Obama family may be able to fill their wish of adopting a less-allergenic dog from a shelter.

Let's get started with questions!

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Fairfield, Pa.: Why are those two breeds hypo-allergenic?

Stephanie Shain: no breed is totally "Hypo-allergenic"

All dogs have the ability to cause an allergic reaction from someone who has dog-related allergies.

Dogs with soft, constantly-growing hair like poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs (PWD), and Bichons to name a few may be less irritating to some individuals, although this may be because they are bathed and groomed more frequently.

One dog or cat of a particular breed may be more irritating to an individual allergy sufferer than another animal of that same breed.

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Woodbridge, Va.: How allergic is Malia that they can't just get a standard mix from the shelter? Why these specific breeds?

Stephanie Shain: I'm not aware of how severe her allergies are, but I think the soon to be first family get high marks for being careful in their selection of a dog...they are setting themselves and their new best friend up to succeed.

The great thing is that they can rescue a dog in need of a home AND get a dog who is less likely to bother her allergies. Everyone wins :)

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Chicago, Ill.: Is it true Labradoodles can be different sizes/weights depending on the size of the poodle (toy, miniature, standard)? Are all Labradoodles non-shedding or are there different types of coats?

Stephanie Shain: Welcome to the world of mixed breeds!

"Labradoodles" are a mix of a Labrador Retriever and Poodle. Because of the size of a Lab, they are going to be mixed with a standard poodle. That results in a big dog!

The coats of the Labradoodle dogs I've met vary greatly...some are more wiry and some are more curly.

Not all non-shedding...it's going to depends on the individual dog.

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Evanston, Ill.: I have a lab (from a breed rescue group) and a standard poodle, who was a stray, so I can appreciate the Obamas' desire for a Labradoodle. But realistically, what are the chances they will find one in a shelter? Aren't they in very high demand?

Stephanie Shain: Sadly, every time (and I mean EVERY time) we see a kind of dog become suddenly popular we see a huge growth in the production of those animals in puppy mills (mass breeding operations - awful places), a huge increase in the number of people buying them, and a spike in the number of that kind of dog in shelters and resuces.

It happened decades ago to Cocker Spaniels (circa lady and the Tramp) and more recently with Dalmatians (101 of course).

Labradoodles came on the scene a few years ago. Shelters are likely to classify them as a "poodle mix", not necessarily a "Labradoodle", slthough some will mark them as such.

They are out there in need of homes...loads of them.

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Lewisburg, W.Va.: Hi, full disclosure, am an AKC breeder of Bedlington Terriers (which don't shed, by the way).

The Labradoodle and PWS are not the best fit for WH, need too much exercise. There are ten AKC breeds that do not shed. Each breed has a rescue group. A min. Schnauzer or toy poodle are a better fit. Can someone from Humane Society or AKC get the list of 10 breeds with their characteristics to the Obamas to review? Hate to see a big, high energy dog stuck there. Thanks.

Stephanie Shain: Welcome!

Glad you brought up the excercise issue. You're right - the Obamas have expressed interest in two high-energy types of dogs.

While I'm sure they'll have a great deal of help making sure their dog gets everything he or she needs, it's an extremely important thing for us regular people to consider when adding a dog to our home (unless you're lucky enough to have a staff to help you!).

A dog with lots of energy and not enough excercise daily gets bored and then problems usually start (think eating your couch, constant barking, etc.

At the Humane Society of the US we are offering our help for sure to the Obama family (or anyone's family!) in selecting the perfect dog for them.

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Oakland, Calif.: Has anyone offered the Obamas any books or booklists? Dr. Pitcairn's health guide, training and care manuals, novels like Jim Kjelgaard's?

Stephanie Shain: I'm sure they have been sent loads of books (and surely dog toys) with good wishes from the million of dog lovers all over the world.

I think we all want to see the First Dog be as happy and healthy as can be.

I know that one book, "A Rare Breed of Love" about a puppy mill rescued dog named Baby was sent to them as there is a photo of President-Elect Obama in the book with Baby.

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Falls Church, Va.: I have two rescue dogs, and work with two different rescues as a volunteer. I am pleased with the possible selections of the Labradoodle and the PWD. They make sense to me. Hypoallergenic, on the larger size, energetic and smart dogs. Will do well in seasonal Illinois and D.C. And yes, they will be able to find one in a shelter, somewhere, somehow. It won't be impossible.

Stephanie Shain: You're right, not impossible at all.

I've heard from shelters and rescue groups across the country already with PWDs and Labradoodle dogs they have who they would love to introduce to the Obama family.

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Redmond, Wash.: Good morning. I am reluctant to offer more pet-related suggestions to the first family, as they must be tired of it all by now, but here's one more...why not a standard poodle? Isn't it the poodle part of the mix that lessens the allergy risk anyway? And if you don't cut their hair into those foofoo balls, they look pretty much just like a Portuguese Water Dog. Plus, there are many more of them in shelters, just because there are many more of them out there. I understand what the poodle brand might say, but if you get a dog from a shelter, all of that goes out the window....just my two cents.

Stephanie Shain: I agree, I think a poodle is a great option as well. They have a choice of sizes, this breed is READILY available in shelters and rescue all over the place. And if they don't like the fancy cut look (apologies to all the "foofoo" dogs out there ;) they can leave the coat longer as you suggest.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: (Groan) How long before 'breeders' decide to make a couple thousand bucks by overbreeding the "Obama Dog," whether it be a Portuguese Water Dog, or by-any-other-name-is-a-mutt, the (barf) Labradoodle?

I swear, if he doesn't adopt from a rescue group or a shelter, I'm not voting for Obama in the future. Biden's misstep with the German Shephard puppy was bad enough!

Stephanie Shain: I'm sure people who love PWDs are nervous about the coverage the breed they love might get. As said before, when popularity goes up so does bad breeding (see humanesociety.org/puppymills for more info and video)

Let's hope we can all keep ourselves in check a bit before jumping on that Obama Dog craze you mention. Maybe we can all adopt a dog in honor of the First Family - call them your "Obama Dog" because he inspired you to bring that "mutt like me" into your home and heart.

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Maple Glen, Pa.: I own a Portuguese Water Dog. It's my unbiased opinion that they are great dogs. However, as a working breed, they are active and need lots of play time, especially when young. My question is whether an aide will be assigned to exercise and walk the dog, or will that duty fall to the first family?

Stephanie Shain: As busy as this family will be I'm sure they'll get some extra help with giving their pooch lots of daily excercise.

If they do decide to stick with a PWD or Labradoodle they will surely need the excercise.

And PWDs LOVE to swim so some water time will be vital!

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Alexandria, Va.: I find the restrictions on adopting a sheltered dog too severe, and these restrictions are shortening the lives of dogs who otherwise could lead a normal suburban pet existence. We live on a corner lot where fences are not permitted. We installed an electric fence that has proven completely effective in controlling the various dogs we've owned over the years. We would like to help other dogs have good lives, and have tried (unsuccessfully) to adopt. Yet the shelters we've contacted about adopting dogs refuse to even consider us because, in their minds, our yard is not fenced in. Do you agree with the shelters? Is this attitude widespread? Should we simply call a different shelter? Or should we just get with a breeder for our next dogs?

Stephanie Shain: First, thank you for considering adoption.

I'm so sorry to hear you had a frustrating experience.

Different groups have different policies, so I hope a bad experience at one shelter won't turn you off completely.

Most shelters DON'T have a "fenced yard" policy...in your area of Virginia, loads of people don't even have a yard.

I'll give a shout out to the Washington Humane Society on New York Ave in DC...I got both of my dogs there and the staff was fantastic (and I dind't tell them where I worked :)

Keep trying - if you are kind enough to want to rescue a dog, the right dog is out there just waiting for you...

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Alexandria, Va.: Having once been on a windjammer with a Belgium boat dog (a Schipperke) I can attest to its gentle nature and ability to stay out of the way from human feet (even in the middle of the night). I might favor a Portuguese water dog which I assume, like a Schipperke, would also be a good watch dog. More recently I asked our newly married daughter (who wants a dog) what kind of dog she would like and she said "I've been thinking of a Labradoodle, or as she explained when I said, "a Labradoodle?"--"a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle" which Internet research tells me began in Australia. This, for the record, was before Malia came up with the same idea.

Stephanie Shain: Congrats to your daughter on her marriage.

I hope you'll pass on one request to her from me...before she sets her heart on only one kind of dog at least visit her local shelter and see the pups there who need a home.

Most shelters have websites these days so she can probably see animals at her local shelter from the comfort of her home or office.

You can search on specific kinds of dogs on websites like www.Petfinder.org - just type in the zip code where she lives.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why don't the Obamas adopt one of their preferred breed dogs from a breed rescue organization? There are breed rescue organizations in the U.S. for all breeds of dogs. The Obamas could adopt a Labradoodle or Portuguese Water Dog (or other breed) from a Rescue Team that rescues such breeds from animal shelters and puppy farms. Please visit Petfinder or Next Day Pets. This way the family gets the breed they want without purchasing from a breeder.

In addition, it is possible that the children will outgrow her/their allergies to dogs and other pets.

Stephanie Shain: I need to note here that the website Next Day pets sells animals.

Petfinder.org is the number one site for adoptables as well as a way to find your own local shetler and see the dogs on their website.

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washingtonpost.com: Petfinder

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Arlington, Va.: I just don't understand the perspective of the "dog purists" cited in today's article. Assuming the "first dog" won't be participating in any shows, why on earth wouldn't the first family set a great example for the nation by adopting? Too many well-intended citizens just don't know any better that there are so many thousands of homeless animals that must lose their lives each year. This is an amazing opportunity to get the word out!

washingtonpost.com: As Hunt for First Dog Narrows, Groups Show Their Puppy Love (Post, Jan. 15)

Stephanie Shain: This is an area of great debate and one we won't likely see an end to any time soon. I think the great take-away message here is that the Obama's have indicated they really want to adopt a dog in need, even if they are focusing on a certain type of dog.

In the UK they are starting to really examine some of the standards of purebred dogs as they are actually bad for the animals (those oh so cute smuched in faces on English Bulldogs can cause major breathing problems for example).

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Christmas Puppies and Spring: It is wonderful that the children will have a dog.

When I was looking for a puppy folks told me that the Christmas puppies will be flooding either rescue or regular shelters in the spring. What was cute and cuddly on Dec 25 now is a gangly 15-week-old puppy that piddles and poops and must be taken out in the cold. Many of these ill thought of gifts end up homeless.

People may be unaware that reputable breeders are often looking for homes for purebred older puppies (6 months) that they decided not to show or an older retired show dog (2-4 years old).

If dog allergies where not a problem, my vote goes for a rescue greyhound.

Stephanie Shain: It's sad but true that often puppies lose their homes after a few months because the people who got them didn't realize how much work a puppy is! Dogs often lose their homes around the age of 6 months...they are teenagers and well, you've all ehard what it's like to live with a teenager sometimes!

As for me, I'll never have another puppy. Give me the one year old dog who has already worked their way through the wild chewing stage and midnight potty break!

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Washington, D.C.: I recently adopted a dog from a rescue group. I paid their price and signed their contract. I later learned this dog was fosterd by someone not affiliated with the group and the dog was not kept up to the rescue group's standard of care (i.e. no heartworm or flea prevention used). Also, the dog has health issues that were not disclosed by the foster to the rescue group or me until after the adoption. I now have a great dog but potentially huge vet bills. Do I have any recourse? Do adopters have rights or is it buyer beware?

Stephanie Shain: I would get in touch wiht the Executive Director of the group you adopted from and let them know your concerns and the challenges you are facing.

For one, they'll likely want to get that foster volunteer out of their program.

Different groups have different policies so ask your group if there is anything they can do to help you.

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Ellicott City, Md.: So just how much does a Labradoodle or Portuguese Water Dog cost from a breeder? It's not so bad that they are buying a dog, they kind of set up all of us mutt lovers. We have two lab "mixes" from rescue groups. My best dog ever was a cocker spaniel mix from the D. C. dog pound. Seems like saving a dog is the way they should go.

Stephanie Shain: Price varies - and price is no guarantee.

I've seen Labradoodles advertised for $400 and I've seen them advertised for $2500.

The only way to be sure you aren't dealing with a abd breeder is to go look for yourself.

But of course - adoption is the best choice in my book. There is no greater feeling than giving a home to an animal in a shelter...you get a best friend AND you get to be a hero. That's a pretty great deal.

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20009: The Portie and Labradoodle are both high-energy dogs. I'm a little nervous that they might be too much for first-time dog owners. Can they really walk the dog for an hour a day? I wish they would look for a breed that doesn't need so much exercise.

Stephanie Shain: What great dog people we have today!

I'm glad to see so many people thinking about excercise needs of the dog. Great work!

I hope you all share such good insights with friends and family when you hear they are considering adding a dog to their family.

So many dogs lose their home because their people just weren't ready for all the time and money it takes to care for a dog.

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San Diego, Calif.: "How often do you see Labradoodles at shelters?" Stephanie must not be aware of the immeasurable number of dogs (that includes purebred and designer dogs) that land at shelters for reasons too many to mention. Also, check Craigslist and see the gorgeous animals that are being rehomed or given away, often because people have lost their homes and the circumstances force heartbroken owners to break up their family and abandon their beloved friend they have nurtured and loved so dearly. Often landlords will not allow pets, they just say no. I don't know anything about the Portuguese Water Dog -- it must be very rare, but you can find Labradoodles and every other kind of "doodle" all day long, desperately wanting someone who will give them a home and love them.

Stephanie Shain: Great points - lots of dogs are losing their homes due to foreclosures and the economy in general.

if you can afford to, now is a great time to adopt a dog from your local animal shelter.

For people who are forced to give their own pets up, we have tips on our website (humanesociety.org) to be sure you are placing your dog in a safe home. Not too much invovled, just some things to watch for.

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washingtonpost.com: Humane Society

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For Alexandria, Va.: I live in Arlington and experienced the same restrictions. There are plenty of folks in this community looking to adopt. If you are willing to travel even a half-hour or more to a more rural shelter, you will find an over-abundance of animals in need. We were surprised when we put in an application at the Humane Society in Harford County, Md., that they wanted us to take our dog home that day. PLEASE go to a shelter in more need!

Stephanie Shain: Great point!

Some shelters (like the one you mentioned in Harford County) have a policy that you take the dog home the same day you visit; others have a system that pairs you up with an adoption counselor to help make the best match between you and your new pet.

You can always call the shelter in advance and ask about their policies so you know the process in advance.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Stephanie,

Was there an increase in animal shelters or availability early on in the Bush administration of Scottish terriers? Particularly with the first barneycam?

Thanks

Stephanie Shain: We saw big jumps in Scotties out there after Barney came to town.

Big dogs who lose their homes have a harder time finding a new home. While Scotties are feisty (a small dog who thinks he's a big dog) they have size on their side.

A shelter has a harder time re-homing a big dog just because of their size. There are fewer people who want big dogs, so those animals sit in shelters longer waiting for their adoptive hero to come along.

I think big dogs are fantastic...a gently big dog is a great family companion.

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Kansas City, Mo.: As the owner of four dogs, three from shelters and one from 'the streets' I just want to say THANK YOU for all your hard work!

Stephanie Shain: Thank YOU for being so kind to open your home to so many dogs! Four lives saved - that's impressive - good for you (and them).

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Re: Why don't they just adopt?: Given Malia's allergies, it's understandable that the Obamas want a purebred that is less likely to bother her allergies rather than a mutt. And like most kids, the girls probably want to get a puppy. And like a lot of adults, perhaps the pres and first lady want a dog whose history they know firsthand, instead of gambling on an adult shelter dog of unknown origin. Sheesh, people, give them a break! Getting a purebred puppy from a conscientious, reputable breeder is not a sin -- it is a responsible decision. It's not like the Obamas are like to head to Inbred Puppies R Us if they get the Portie -- they'll do what Biden did and get a solidly bred pup from a reputable breeder.

Adopting from a shelter is a wonderful choice for some. It's not for others. But the Labradoodle thing is perplexing - it's equally likely to have a Lab coat as a poodle coat.

Stephanie Shain: The concern I'm hearing is less about the Obamas going to their local pet store and buying a puppy mill pup...the conern is focused on other people wanting to get the same kind of dog and NOT finding a small, in-home breeder who treats their dogs like members of the family.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think it's reasonable for any parent to entrust the care and feeding of pets to their children? Is this responsibity of the parent, even if those parents are the president-elect and the first lady-to-be? I'm asking because I watch "Animal Cops" on Animal Planet, and various episodes have shown that when kids are given this kind of responsibility for caring for pet, an occasional pet cruelty incident can occur. Moreover, cruelty investigators tell the parents that kids are too young for that responsibility. What are your thoughts?

Stephanie Shain: I have no doubt that the Obama family will give their dog fantastic care and that this great family will all be involved.

Your point is well taken though. The parents are ALWAYS the responsible party, legally and ethically. Helping to care for pets is a great way for kids to learn about animals and all that they need and thus get a lesson in responsibility. but it si up to parents to be sure that the child in the home is providing adequate care.

An animal needs care, their welfare should never be compromised just to teach a child a "lesson".

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Shelter pups: I'm a little concerned that Labradoodle and Portie owners will start giving their dogs to the local shelter just for the potential of having them adopted by the Obamas. Unfounded fear?

Stephanie Shain: I have faith that shelters across the U.S. will keep doing what they do every day - putting the welfare of animals first so wouldn't be willing to compromise their mission.

If someone is foolish enough to give up their pet in the hopes he or she ends up in the White House, well, that'd be a new low so lets cross our fingers not.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I would love to see the Obama's adopt a Cavachon, I have a dear little 2 year old male who is part King Charles Cavalier and part Bichon. He is very bright and sweet natured and allergen free...mine weighs in just under 25lbs, but they are usually around 18lbs tops.

Stephanie Shain: So glad you love your dog so much - what a lcuky boy he is.

Essentailly, any kind of dog mixed with a poodle or Bichon or some other less-allergenic breed MAY be better for someone with allergies, but there are no guarantee.

Even purebred Bichons can trigger allergies.

I'm certain the Obamas will find the dog of their dreams.

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Stephanie Shain: Thanks everyone for chiming in today.

There are lots of great dogs out there of all sized and shapes. Go for someone unique - you can find a one-in-a-million dog at your local shelter.

Any questions about pet keeping, how to adopt or anything else about animals, visit us online at www.humanesociety.org.

Now - everyone go kiss your pets!

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