WASHINGTON – In Washington, everything is political – even the choice of a family dog.

As President Barack Obama and his family officially introduced the new first puppy, Bo, a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog, to the world at the White House on Tuesday, people inside the Beltway were panting that Obama had broken his promise to find a rescue dog.

“Welcome to your life,” Michelle Obama told Bo, as the first lady, the president and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, walked the dog along the South Lawn in front of a crush of about 50 reporters. They presented the picture of an average American family: two kids, two parents and a dog.

As cameras clicked and reporters scrambled for a view of the white-pawed specimen from a fabled working breed, Bo took it all in stride, wagging his long pouf of a tail and tugging at his leash.

“He’s a star,” the president remarked. “He’s got star quality.”

Not enough, however, to land Bo a presidential pillow. When asked where the pooch is sleeping, Obama said, “Not in my bed.”

As the first family romped with their pet across a South Lawn in spring bloom, the adoption of a family dog would seem to be the height of simplicity. After all, 40 million American households own at least one dog. But nothing is simple in Washington, the capital of scoring points.

In promising his daughters that, win or lose the presidency, the family would get a dog once his campaign was over, Obama had thrown a bone to animal lovers. Then, when he and his wife repeatedly said they would seek a rescue dog, Obama won over more folks.

“I’ve finally got a friend,” Obama said Tuesday as the family encouraged Bo to do his business on the lawn.

But now tongues are wagging in Washington that Obama, in giving up the search for a rescue dog and taking a pricey purebred pup, has shown a knack for leaving people with one idea and taking another tack – such as the family’s initial interest in public schooling for the girls, only to enroll them in the private Sidwell Friends School.

Last summer, Best Friends Animal Society, an animal welfare organization, launched www.obamafamilydog.com, gathering 50,000 signatures on an online petition asking the Obamas to adopt a dog from a shelter. John Polis, public relations manager for the group, is disappointed in the president’s choice of a purebred pup.

“We’re always happy when a dog gets a new home,” Polis said. “But we feel that, overall, it was an opportunity missed by the president to adopt from a shelter or a breed rescue organization and make a statement for the 4 million to 5 million animals euthanized every year.” Obama had said during his first news conference as president-elect that he’d be looking for “a mutt like me.”

“We were real happy about that,” Polis said, “but it turned out not to be the case.”

Obama’s defenders argue that, technically, Bo is a rescue dog, having been given up by his first owner and returned to the breeder, who also bred Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Portuguese water dog, Cappy, a littermate of Bo. Kennedy and his wife gave Bo to the Obamas.

The White House is Bo’s fourth home. Registered with the American Kennel Club as “Amigo’s New Hope,” he was born at Amigo Portuguese Water Dog breeders in Texas, moved to Washington with his first owner and then lived for a month with Kennedy’s dog trainer in Virginia before settling at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

On the Humane Society’s Web site, society president Wayne Pacelle offers Bo a warm welcome as a “second-chance dog,” but encourages people to visit “their local animal shelter or breed rescue group” to give a stranded pet a chance at a loving home.

There was no political spin in the first dog’s first public turn around the South Lawn, though.

In the dog’s debut, the first lady appeared comfortable walking the energetic Bo, held firmly on the leash as he scampered and sniffed at the damp grass. The one time the president took the leash, however, the pooch took the master off for a sprint.

Luckily, Bo was headed away from the White House’s new vegetable garden. “Apparently Portuguese water dogs like tomatoes,” Obama joked. “Michelle’s tomato garden is in danger.”

(c) 2009, Tribune Co.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): OBAMA-DOG


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