The Washington Humane Society sees roughly 4,000 dogs a year at its two branches.
The Washington Humane Society sees roughly 4,000 dogs a year at its two branches. Kathleen Masterson/NPR
This puppy is one of many mixed-breed and purebred dogs that the society takes in each year.
This puppy is one of many mixed-breed and purebred dogs that the society takes in each year. Kathleen Masterson/NPR
When President-elect Barack Obama promised his daughters a puppy in his victory speech, little did he know the surfeit of political input that would issue forth regarding the new addition to the family.
The Obamas have expressed interest in adopting a furry friend from a shelter, but Obama's 10-year-old daughter, Malia, has allergies to dogs. Finding the perfect pup could be tricky, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology contends, because there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic breed.
Shaggy dogs often get a bum rap, but allergens are actually in skin, not hair, the academy explains. The amount of allergen dander varies drastically from dog to dog — even within each breed.
"Please don't believe the Internet that there is a breed or some variety of breeds that are going to be safe for you," says Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, "because that clearly is not the case."
Regardless of allergists' advice, people with dog allergies insist that some breeds are more hypoallergenic than others, says Diana Foley, adoption coordinator at the Washington Humane Society. She says dog owners report that because poodles don't shed much, they cause less irritation to allergy sufferers than other breeds do.
Every Pup's Dander Is Unique
Several studies have shown a tremendous variability of allergen levels, even within breeds, Woods says. One study published in the journal Allergy in 2005 found that poodles had a huge range in the amount of allergen dander found in individual dogs. One poodle was a very low allergen producer, while another produced 60 times more allergens — almost the highest of all the breeds tested. The study measured the dogs' fur, not how much dander was found in their respective homes.
The study also found that the most allergen-laden Labrador retriever had a substantially lower count than the high-dander dogs measured in other breeds. Yet this comparatively low-dander Lab had 1,500 times more dander than the least-dandered Lab and 20 times more than the lowest German shepherd.
So What's The First Family To Do?
One solution is to find a flexible breeder or shelter and take a dog home on trial. Wood says an allergy sufferer should be able to tell within two weeks whether the dog will trigger a reaction. The Washington Humane Society sees 4,000 dogs a year, and its administrators say they're optimistic an excellent match for the Obamas could come through its doors.
Dog owners can control some household factors. Keeping the dog out of the allergic person's bedroom reduces animal dander in pillows and blankets, according to the academy. Replacing carpeting with hardwood flooring and using high-efficiency air filters also can help lower allergen levels.
And keeping the pup clean, with frequent baths, helps reduce the amount of dander shed.
Looks like the first dog might need its own transition team to prep the White House.