Sunny Obama’s birth certificate has yet to be released — where is Donald Trump when you need him? — and the White House is being tight-lipped about the origins of the First Family's new Portuguese water dog puppy. But Daily Intelligencer has found a trail of evidence that seems to solve the mysteries around Washington, D.C.'s most adorable new media spectacle.
The official White House announcement of Sunny's entry into the Obama family offered only a few sparse details, including that the puppy came from Michigan and was born in June of last year. In the small world of PWD breeders, however, that was enough to signal that the dog was almost certainly born in the small town of Attica, just east of Flint, where Amy Durkin Lane operates a breeding facility, Allegiance PWDs, out of her ten-acre country home. Not only is Lane the only registered Portie breeder in Michigan listed on the PWD Club of America's website, she confirmed to Daily Intelligencer that one of her dogs gave birth to a litter of eight puppies last June — including two females with Sunny-style curly hair, which is actually a rarity in the PWD world. (Despite Bo making the breed famous, most owners prefer the more dominant wavy do that is considered traditional.) Moreover, one of those females also has black feet — same as Sunny.
Lane, on vacation in Florida yesterday, didn’t deny that one of her puppies was now living in the White House, but she had "no comment at this time.” Her mother, however, posted to Facebook that Lane was being contacted by reporters who have “suspected she is the breeder of the new Obama dog Sunny.” Lane’s sister promptly chastised her mother on Facebook for divulging something that “was not public knowledge,” and the mother's post was promptly deleted. For what it's worth, she does identify herself on Facebook as a Republican.
Sunny seems to have begun life as Pink — identifiable by the combination of her coat, black feet, and sex. Lane posted photos on Facebook of the puppy in its early days — including a set when Pink when she was just a week old. According to Lane's site, Pink's parents are two champion show dogs — mom Slipper and dad Henry. A family tree shows three of Pink's grandparents and six of her great-grandparents were also champions. Slipper is described as "spirited in nature, very well muscled," and the owner of "a tremendous headpiece" — as well as being simply "a dog that wants to please and loves her family." Henry died in 2010 — the litter was fathered with frozen sperm — but is remembered as a "great showman" who "loved to eat." Why does it seem to have taken more than a year to place Pink with a buyer? Breeders say it's possible she was being considered for a life as a show dog but developed some physical trait regarded as a defect, putting her on the pet track.
It’s unclear why the White House and Lane are being so parsimonious about the details of Sunny's origins, given the hints embedded in the announcement. When Bo Obama was introduced to the public in 2009, the White House revealed that he was a product of Amigo PWDs in Boyd, Texas, and had had an unsuccessful stint in the home of an unnamed D.C. socialite. At the time, there were some skeptical murmurings because Obama had vowed to adopt a shelter dog but, citing his daughter's allergies, ended up with a “specialty” breed that costs $2,000 per pup. The fact that he was coming secondhand seemed to make him less hifalutin. He was also a gift from dying senator Ted Kennedy, who owned a littermate of Bo's from Amigo.
The fact that there are no similar mitigating factors in Sunny's case — she's just a living, breathing luxury good — might explain the greater reticence in this case. In a political environment where everything is fodder for personal attacks, perhaps Obama or the press office decided that offering details wasn't worth the headache.
Why Lane wouldn't own up — or even offer a denial — is a different question. Bo's breeder, Art Stern, described his experience in the public eye in very pleasant terms.
"It was very exciting back then,” Stern told Daily Intelligencer. “When I see my dog on TV and out and around, it is still very exciting.” Stern, like many of his colleagues, feared Bo’s fame would turn PWDs into a fad and “ruin the breed,” but the uptick in demand has been modest. It was the 55th most popular in the American Kennel Club’s 2012 ranking, up from the 60s pre-Bo. While their calm disposition and hypoallergenic coats would seem to make them desirable, potential owners often must wait months for their puppy. “In a society of instant gratification, people found out they couldn’t just call up and get a puppy the next week, and they lost interest,” Stern said.
He, too, wondered why Lane was being so circumspect given that the spotlight only lasts “a very short while.” The White House never made any attempt to keep in touch, he said — they didn’t even send him the official Christmas card featuring Bo. (A card “would have been nice,” Stern said, a bit wistfully.)
Whether Lane will be getting a Sunny card this Christmas remains an open question.