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The First Puppy Makes a Big Splash

Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog, Is All Over the Web Before His Official Debut

Take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce about White House pets from the past.
  • Yes, that's the dog.
  • No, I think it is an imposter.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009; Page A01

Who let the dog out?

That's the Washington mystery du jour.

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The identity of the first puppy -- the one that the Washington press corps has been yelping about for months, the one President Obama has seemed to delight in dropping hints about -- leaked out yesterday. This despite White House efforts to delay the news until the big debut planned for Tuesday afternoon.

The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-lovin' senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The girls named it Bo -- and let it be noted that you learned that here first. Malia and Sasha chose the name, because their cousins have a cat named Bo and because first lady Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said. (Get it? Bo . . . Diddley?)

Bo's a handsome little guy. Well suited for formal occasions at the White House, he's got tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws and a rakish white goatee.

Clearly, the identity of the dog was information too big to contain. A mysterious Web site called http://firstdogcharlie.com published a picture of a Portie yesterday morning, complete with a Q and A with the dog, which it said was originally named Charlie. The celebrity gossip Web site http://TMZ.comlinked to the picture. So much for the big White House unveiling.

For an Obama team that ran a famously tight-knit press operation during last year's presidential election campaign, it was a sign of how tough it can be to keep a leash on information in Washington.

It's not for lack of trying, though. Bo's story starts sometime around the Ides of March. Word on the street was that the White House was going to plant a vegetable garden. Health gurus had been pushing the Obamas to plant seedlings for months, hoping it would set a good example for children everywhere.

A Washington Post food reporter was making calls, probing, pushing. But the White House was mum. Word filtered out that the exclusive had been promised to the New York Times. But the White House offered The Post, the newspaper that cracked Watergate, a mollifier: A puppy exclusive.

These kinds of arrangements get made all the time in Washington. For a while, the puppy deal seemed to be holding up. Sure, reporters here and there nipped at the story. There were hints that the puppy was a gift. There were reports that the Kennedys were involved -- but the senator's press people professed no knowledge.

But then came yesterday morning. The FirstDogCharlie site included a photograph of a Portuguese water dog that looked exactly like the dog in a White House photograph -- right down to the multicolored lei. (FirstDogCharlie was registered anonymously on Friday on the Web site http://godaddy.com. Will its creators surface to take credit?)

The White House dismissed the Web site picture as "bogus." Both photos are reproduced here; you decide.


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