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Pooch owners worry about Obamas' choice

IT'S nothing against the Obamas. But some Portuguese water dog owners aren't thrilled the breed is a front-runner for the first family.

The choice could mean a spike in the dogs' popularity ?? and that could mean a rise in shady breeders and fickle owners who don't understand the dogs and eventually abandon them, owners of Portuguese water dogs say.

"There's always the danger of something like that," said Stu Freeman, president of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. "It's '101 Dalmatians' syndrome."

After that movie came out, everyone thought they were cute, ran out and bought the dogs and found they were not quite as adorable as the ones in the movie, Freeman said.

US First Lady Michelle Obama told People magazine that the family is looking to rescue a Portuguese water dog in April although her press secretary said on Thursday the decision isn't final. President Barack Obama had also mentioned a Labradoodle a choice.

Portuguese water dogs were bred centuries ago to help fishermen along the Portugal coast, retrieving nets and diving for fish.

Even before the Obamas, the dogs' star was rising - Senator Ted Kennedy has two. In 1998 the breed ranked 82nd in popularity, according to American Kennel Club registration statistics. Last year they were ranked 62nd.

Elena Gretch, a dog trainer and owner of two Portuguese water dogs, attributes some of that to the fact that the dog is good for allergy sufferers. Malia Obama, 10, has allergies. Michelle Obama also praised the dogs' personality and size in the People magazine interview.

"Temperamentally they're supposed to be pretty good," Mrs Obama said. "From the size perspective, they're sort of middle of the road - it's not small but it's not a huge dog. And the folks that we know who own them have raved about them. So that's where we're leaning."

Gretch worries that if the Obamas choose the breed, puppy mills will sprout up. The dogs cost US$1,800 to US$2,500 and aren't as common as other popular breeds. They're prone to hip dysplasia, so finding a good breeder is important and the dogs don't often end up in shelters for adoption.

The dogs also require a lot of attention, grooming and outdoor exercise. "It's agile, it's a great swimmer, it loves to be outdoors," Gretch said.


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