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This race for the White House begins at the dog pound

November 15, 2008|Carla Hall | Hall is a Times staff writer.

Wanted: Presidential First Puppy. Should be less than a year old. Only hypoallergenic dogs need apply. Poodles and doodles especially welcome. Yorkies, bichon frises, Cairn terriers, Westies, cockapoos and wheaten terriers also encouraged. Must be doing time in a city or county shelter, foster home or private rescue facility. Will be vetted by incoming first daughters, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10. Position is highly competitive.

"There is a perfect dog sitting here waiting for him," Gillian Lange, founder of a private rescue operation on the Westside, said Friday in a pitch echoed by others eager to submit resumes of shelter dogs to the White House transition team.

"It's a white dog, about 18 pounds, 6 months old, called April," said Lange, who heads the Lange Foundation. The dog is a poodle, mixed possibly with a West Highland terrier. "She loves children, especially little girls, and definitely wants to live in a house the same color as she is."

Ever since President-elect Barack Obama announced in his victory speech that his daughters would be taking a new puppy with them to the White House, interest in the subject of the First Pooch has exploded. Animal welfare websites bristle with advice on pet ownership and praise for Obama's pledge to search for a shelter dog.

Petfinder.com, citing Malia's allergies, blogged this week that its database included about 5,000 dogs of hypoallergenic breeds.

"We've called and e-mailed his transition team; I think we're approaching harassment," database co-founder Betsy Saul said, laughing. "I want to communicate the message loud and clear that I will personally help his family find the right dog."

Ed Boks, general manager of L.A.'s Animal Services Department, said he called the office of Antonio Villaraigosa in hopes that the mayor -- who's on Obama's economic task force, after all -- might "put in a good word for L.A.'s homeless dogs. Our dogs would make the very best ambassadors to the White House."

But so would the bald and stark-looking Peruvian hairless dog -- at least according to the Friends of the Peruvian Hairless Dog Assn. "They do not cause any type of allergy and are very friendly and sweet," the group's director, Claudia Galvez, told a wire service reporter this week. Galvez sent a letter through diplomatic circles offering a male puppy.

And Yoyo, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina and a rescue dog of the puli breed -- a Hungarian sheepdog -- is scheduled to announce her candidacy for First Dog at a Nov. 25 news conference at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in West L.A., according to hospitality and pet industry publicist Susan Hartzler.

The White House has been home to plenty of dogs and cats, an occasional pet pony or cow, even a literary pooch -- Bush One's springer spaniel, Millie, "wrote" a book. But rarely has a First Pet selection generated such interest.

A local animal welfare advocate sent out a group e-mail Tuesday urging animal activists and City Council members to talk up two young poodle mixes housed at an L.A. Animal Services shelter. "Please, everyone use your own method to get to Obama to make it happen," he beseeched.

It's not just a matter of wanting to be connected to the new POB (pet of Barack).

Obama's declaration last week that his family would prefer a shelter dog has bestowed upon homeless creatures in private rescue operations and municipal shelters -- once known as lowly dog pounds -- a respectability that animal welfare professionals, activists and celebrity supporters have spent decades trying to convey.

"That sends such a clear message that we have got to stop the nonsense of buying from pet stores and puppy mills when so many animals are dying in our shelters," Boks said. Millions of healthy animals in shelters across the country are euthanized each year because there's not enough space to keep them all.

Because Malia is allergic, Obama said, the family would have to get a hypoallergenic breed. "But obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me," he added, referring to his white mother and black father.

The shelter community rarely hears that kind of presidential pronouncement.

"It's huge. The . . . president-elect is standing up there describing himself as a mutt saying he wants shelter dogs," said Saul. "It feels like it was a long time coming, and at the same time, I feel like Sleeping Beauty who's been asleep for 100 years and just woke up."

Shelter officials say they hope the Obamas will be imitated. "If he says he'll adopt a shelter dog, I bet you people will adopt shelter dogs," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Los Angeles.

Even Obama's mention that it might be hard to find a hypoallergenic shelter dog has only stoked the puppy advice frenzy.

Though many people think shelter dogs are all mixed breeds, in fact a quarter of them are purebred, said Saul, whose database lists about 150,000 dogs from rescuers and shelters across the country.

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