What America Needs In Its New First Dog Once they're settled into the White House, the Obamas will begin their search for America's new top dog. Experts say the family should look for an outgoing dog, but one that won't try to run the show.

What America Needs In Its New First Dog

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Over the past several weeks, we've brought you a series of memos to President-elect Barack Obama, memos on a long list of issues. Today, NPR's Julie Rovner offers her advice on one issue that's perhaps drawn more public attention than all the others combined: what kind of dog the first family should adopt.

JULIE ROVNER: Dear Mr. President-elect, first off, I'm going to do something I think no other journalist on this subject has done; I'm going to recommend that you not get the kind of dog that I have.

(Soundbite of barking)

ROVNER: Sorry, Gromit. That's my Pembroke Welsh corgi. She's cute as a button and smart as a whip, but she sheds a lot, and there's no telling if she'd set off Obama daughter Malia's allergies. More important, though, Corgis can be, like most herding dogs, a bit of a handful for someone who hasn't trained dogs before.

Mr. DAVID FREI (Director, Communications, Westminster Kennel Club): There's a lot of dogs that we say, this is not for the first-time dog owner.

ROVNER: David Frei is the voice of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show and an expert on all things dog. He says so far, the Obamas are setting a good example when it comes to choosing a dog for their family.

Mr. FREI: They're doing their homework; they're asking a lot of questions; they're considering all the things that are important to them.

ROVNER: For example, they've already figured out that they should wait until they get settled in the White House before they bring in their new pet. Here's how Michelle Obama put it in a "60 Minutes" interview last month.

(Soundbite of TV show "60 Minutes," November 16, 2008)

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: Because as responsible owners, we - I don't think it would be good to get a dog in the midst of transition. So, when we settle, get in a routine - we think about late winter, early spring - we're going to get the dog. Now, we cut that deal with the kids before America knew about it.

ROVNER: People may laugh at a recent New Yorker Magazine cover, showing the president-elect interviewing dogs much as he would job applicants. But Frei says this decision is that important.

Mr. FREI: Because they're going to have a dog in their family, and the dog's going to be with them longer than anybody he names to his Cabinet.

ROVNER: And a White House dog is more than just a family pet; it's going to be a reflection on the first family itself.

Mr. FREI: You want to have a dog whose temperament and personality can put up with a lot of activity and be a part of the family in spite of all those things. And I think, after all, this is going to be America's dog for the next four or eight years.

ROVNER: One desire President-elect Obama has expressed, other than his wish not to get a, quote, "girly dog," is to try to adopt from an animal shelter.

(Soundbite of animal shelter)

ROVNER: A likely possibility is here at the Washington Animal Rescue League, not far from the first family's new home. Gary Weitzman, the shelter's executive director, pauses in front of a black poodle mix.

Dr. GARY WEITZMAN (Executive Director, Washington Animal Rescue League): This is Chrissie(ph). She's listed as a goof ball and will be looking for a home that's probably not wanting to play every minute of the day.

ROVNER: Earlier this year, the shelter started a new program to help match people with the right pets. Still, Weitzman says, even if you're going to get a mixed breed from a shelter, it helps to do your homework and get an idea of the underlying personality of each breed.

Dr. WEITZMAN: In a shelter like ours, where probably half of our shelter are purebred dogs, it's very good to know what that breed's all about. Not every breed is for every family.

ROVNER: Weitzman says the bottom line for first-time dog owners is to find a dog that comes with a built-in support system, be that a breeder, a rescue group or your local animal shelter.

Dr. WEITZMAN: The important thing, no matter where you get a dog, is to get one from people that can help you along that path and show you what's in that breed and what challenges you might be faced with and how you can best work that dog into your family.

ROVNER: Oh, and Mr. President-elect? When you do get that puppy, Gromit says she's available for a play date.

(Soundbite of barking)

ROVNER: Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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