Obama pets have a job to do

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Bo (left) and Sunny, the Obama family's Portuguese water dogs, at White House Easter Egg Roll in March. "Everybody wants to see them and take pictures," first lady Michelle Obama says. "I get a memo."

WASHINGTON - It's hardly a dog's life of just eating and sleeping for President Obama's pets, Bo and Sunny.

The pair of Portuguese water dogs - Bo with his distinctive white chest and front paws, and the all-black Sunny - are canine ambassadors for the White House, very popular and so in demand that they have schedules, just like the president.

"Everybody wants to see them and take pictures," first lady Michelle Obama said. "I get a memo at the beginning of the month with a request for their schedules, and I have to approve their appearances."

The dogs have entertained crowds at the annual Easter Egg Roll. Bo has been at Mrs. Obama's side when she welcomes tourists on the anniversary of the president's inauguration. The dogs also have cheered wounded service members, as well as the hospitalized children the first lady visits each year just before Christmas.

In a sign of just how recognized Bo and Sunny are, authorities in January arrested a North Dakota man who they say came to Washington to kidnap one of the dogs.

Bo, now 7 years old, joined the Obama family in April 2009. He was a gift from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.), a key supporter of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign who became close to the family. Bo helped Obama keep a promise to daughters Malia and Sasha that they could get a dog after the 2008 presidential election.

Sunny, nearly 4, came along in August 2013.

Bo already had a job as a "helper" to Dale Haney, the head groundskeeper at the White House, which is a national park.

"He leaves every morning and he goes down with Dale ... and he's with all the National Park Service guys," Mrs. Obama said. "And you'll see [Bo] . . . walking around with them, and looking at the plants. I think he thinks he has a job, because he takes it very seriously. If I go out and see him, he kind of ignores me when he's with his work-crew people."

The dogs have a nice life.

"They can sit on my lap, they sit on my chair, they cuddle with me," Mrs. Obama said.

Presidential pets are always popular and many presidents kept dogs as companions.

"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog," Harry S. Truman, who did not keep canines at the White House, once famously advised. His family received an Irish setter and a cocker spaniel while he was in office, but both were later given away.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's memorial in Washington features a statue of the president's beloved Scottish terrier Fala next to him.

Lyndon B. Johnson angered animal lovers by lifting his pet beagle, Him, by the ears.

Gerald R. Ford named his golden retriever Liberty after the city of Philadelphia.

George H.W. Bush's English Springer Spaniel, Millie, "wrote" the best-seller Millie's Book.

Bill Clinton's chocolate Labrador retriever, Buddy, helped him weather the scandal and impeachment over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

George W. Bush's Scottish Terrier, Barney, had an official web page and starred in "Barneycam" videos that were filmed from a camera hung around his neck.

Obama promised last year to "clean things up a little bit" before leaving the White House in January because the dogs "have been tearing things up occasionally."

Staff writer Michael Harrington contributed to this article.