This assembly discusses at the stories of companionship and friendship between presidents, presidential families and their dogs

Bo is the new ‘First Dog’ at the White House. What are the duties of a First Dog and what common pitfalls should he avoid?

Resources

  • Pictures of Bo
  • Picture of Fala

Introduction
Today we’re going to be talking about having a dog as a pet. It’s a big responsibility because dogs need to be walked every day, fed, given water, played with, talked to and included as part of family life. And then there’s the stuff that isn’t so much fun: taking them to the vet and looking after them when they’re ill; and the one that one no-one enjoys – picking up the poop and putting in a dustbin.

We humans are mostly very good about taking the responsibilities of having a dog seriously − but what about the responsibilities a dog has towards its owners? Humans have to be reminded when it’s breakfast, lunchtime, dinnertime, suppertime, walk time and play time; they need to be cheered up when they’re sad; woken up when they’re sleeping; entertained and worried about 24 hours a day. A dog has to look after its humans, which is easier said than done because humans have a bad habit of not staying in one place! Children go off to school and parents go off to work or to friends’ houses or to the shops – to all sorts of places where the poor dog can’t do its job of protecting them. If only humans would either stay at home or take the dog with them – it would make their job a lot easier.

Of course, some people have special dogs with proper jobs. Can you think of what sorts of jobs dogs can do? [Take suggestions: sniffer dogs, police dogs, search and rescue dogs; there’s even Bilbo a life-saving lifeguard dog]

Yes, dogs have lots of important jobs, but one dog in particular has a very important job to do.

Bo’s story
This is Bo. [Show picture] Can you guess what kind of special job Bo might do? [Take suggestions]

Those are some very good answers but the truth is Bo’s job is to look after the President of the United States of America, Barak Obama, and his family. That’s a big job for a little dog, isn’t it? Bo’s job is to take the President for walks, play with his two daughters, Malia, aged 11 and her sister Sasha, aged 8, and keep everybody happy, safe and entertained.

Ok, Bo does have some help when it comes to protecting the President and his family (there are lots of soldiers and police officers to help with that), but when it comes to playing with the girls and keeping everyone happy, Bo has a full time job.

Bo moved into the White House soon after the President and his family did. He seems very happy in his new home. Here are some pictures of him playing with his new family. [Show pictures]

Of course Bo was only a puppy when he went to live with the President and puppies sometimes make mistakes. There was the time when he was flying in the President’s private aeroplane and poor Bo wanted to go to the toilet very badly indeed. Unfortunately even a clever dog like Bo hasn’t taught himself to use a toilet designed for humans, so Bo did a number two on the carpet – it was the nearest thing he could find to something that looked like grass. Oh dear! Poor Bo! He was very embarrassed about that, but, well, accidents do happen, even when you’re the First Dog, the name given to the President’s dog.

Every few years the job of being President goes to a new person and then there’s often a new First Dog.

Fala’s story
Fala was a little Scottish terrier. [Show picture] Here he is with his owner, President Franklin D Roosevelt.

Franklin D Roosevelt was president from 1933 to 1945 and Fala came to live with him in 1940, the year he was born. Fala travelled everywhere with the President and kept him company on his trips and played with him when he was fed up or felt lonely. It’s a very responsible job being president so being the First Dog is a big responsibility, too.

Fala lived during the Second World War and was at all the important meetings that the president had to have with other world leaders. But Fala was very good at keeping secrets so he never told anyone what he’d heard.

It’s a big responsibility being the First Dog and not all dogs have managed as well as Fala: a bull terrier called Pete ripped the trousers of the French ambassador; a dog called Yuki weed on the leg of a visitor from Iran; and a Labrador called Buddy weed on a red carpet in front of TV cameras – but that was probably stage fright.

And yet despite these little accidents, dogs have been a big part of life in Washington at the home of American presidents for years. It’s sometimes pretty tough being the president and people aren’t always nice to you. One president, Harry S Truman, famously said: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” What do you think he meant by that? [Take suggestions]

Conclusion
So how is Bo getting on in Washington living with the President and his family? Well, he’s torn up several magazines, and chewed the odd stray pair of socks or pair of trainers.

Unfortunately young dogs do like to chew things so it’s best to buy them a proper dog chew in case your favourite shoes look like they’ll be perfect for your four-footed friend.

President Obama says that evening walks with Bo are the highlight of his stressful day – even when he has to clean up after him:

‘I’m the guy with the night shift. We go out and we’re walking and I’m picking up poop and in the background is the beautifully lit White House. It’s quite a moment.’ (1)

But the last word should go to Bo’s new friend, Malia. Her dad, the president, won an important international prize for trying to make the world a more peaceful place. Malia said:

‘Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize – and it’s Bo’s birthday!'(2)

Happy first birthday, Bo!

PrayerDear Father,

You are the Creator of all things and you have created dogs and pets to be our friends. Thank you for letting our pets teach us unselfish love. Thank you for the happy memories that they make for us that we will remember all the days of our lives. Amen.

Reflection
When President George W Bush retired he wrote two books: one was an autobiography all about his life in Washington, and the other was a biography of his dog Millie, a Springer Spaniel. Guess which book was read the most? [Take suggestions] That’s right! The book about Millie. (3)

And, all joking aside, the reason people love their dogs so much is because, if you treat them well, they’ll always love you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the wrong clothes, or you’re having a bad hair day, or if you ate the last chocolate digestive and everyone else is mad at you – your dog will still love you. That’s because all a dog asks is that you feed him, walk him, take care of him – and love him.

Further information

  • ‘If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.’ Woodrow Wilson, President 1913-1921
  • ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’ Harry S Truman, President 1945-1953
  • More stories of presidents and their dogs.

Books to readMilllie’s Book by Barbara Bush and Millie BushBo Obama: First Dog of the United States of America by Koji KondoFirst Dog Fala by Elizabeth van Steenwyk

Buster’s Diaries by Roy Hattersley

(The first three books are suitable for KS1 and LKS2, the last book is suitable for UKS2.)

(1) http://www.theledger.com/article/20090905/NEWS/909065016?Title=Bo-Doing-Great-As-Country-s-First-Dog
(2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1219294/Daddy-won-Nobel-Peace-Prize-Bos-birthday-Full-text-Obamas-statement-shock-win.html
(3) http://www.dog-names.org.uk/american-presidents-dogs.htm

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Jane A.C. West

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