Obama's first pet sheds spotlight on Portuguese water dogs

David Atkin
David Atkin

By Leland Kim - bio | email

WAIALAE NUI (KHNL) - It's official. The Obamas have a new family pet at the White House: a Portuguese water dog named Bo. It's a fairly rare breed, but there are some of them roaming around right here in Hawaii.

They're a water spaniel breed of gun dog. They once existed only in Portugal, but eventually made their way to other parts of the world, including Washington D.C. and at right here in Hawaii.

This is the latest addition to the Obama family, a Portuguese water dog named Bo.

And Bo knows the spotlight. Dozens of reporters and photographers followed him on his first walk with the first family.

President Barack Obama promised him, or the idea of him, to his daughters Sasha and Malia for their patience during the campaign.

"You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House," said Obama.

Where the Obamas are now, that's where David Atkin was 13 years ago. He got a call from Beverly Harbin, a friend who bred Portuguese water dogs.

"So she said, 'I have these two puppies. They're the last of the litter and do you want to take them?' And we said, 'Yeah, sure.' Once we saw them," said Atkin, who lives in Waialae Nui. "So, yeah. They're just adorable."

As their name implies, they started out in Portugal.

At one point, they were just along Portugal's coast where they helped fishermen catch fish as well as find lost gear.

Despite centuries of breeding, they've maintained their unique characteristics.

"They have webbed feet and when you see their feet underwater, they're taking big scoops of water like this and they use their tails as rudders," said Atkin.

They're quiet now, but they also have an amazing set of pipes.

"Oh, they sing actually," said Atkin. "And there was a period when I played the saxophone. So they actually sing. He sings better than she does, but he actually does octave shifts and he's very expressive with his singing.

We don't know if Bo's a singer yet, but the comparisons between the Obamas and Atkin don't end here.

"It's also the name," said Atkin. "His name is Sasha. One of the president's daughter's name is also Sasha."

The same breed, the name Sasha, and the Hawaii connection. Three more reasons Atkin's proud of Sasha and Clio, his two Portuguese water dogs.

"Well, I was thrilled," Atkin said with a laugh.

Portuguese water dogs are very active, needing lots of exercise.

But they're hypoallergenic and don't shed. So they're great for families like the Obamas who suffer from allergies.