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White House connection: Bemidji dog half-sister of Obama family dog

Ruby, a 2-year-old Portuguese water dog who is a half-sister of President Barack Obama's new family dog, Bo, poses with her owners, Julie Quanrud and Ric Meixell of Bemidji, and their children, Emily and Jack. Pioneer Photo/Laurie Swenson

A Bemidji family has a White House canine connection.

Ruby, a 2-year-old Portuguese water dog owned by Julie Quanrud and her husband, Ric Meixell, is the half-sister of President Barack Obama's new family dog, Bo.

"I was suspicious because the muzzle is the same," Quanrud said, adding that she became even more suspicious when she saw the Obama family's dog had the exact same white markings as Julius, a full sibling of Ruby's.

After discovering that Ruby and Bo have the same father -- Valkyrie's Dr. Watson Is Here -- Quanrud received about 20 e-mails Tuesday afternoon from fellow members of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of the Twin Cities who saw reports of the presidential pooch and knew Ruby's lineage.

"To think that this dog is lying on the carpet in the White House right now, and we're sitting here with his sister, is pretty wild," Quanrud said.

"I will do whatever it takes for the DFL party," she joked.

Bo, who is 6 months old, was a gift to Barack and Michelle Obama's daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, from Sen. Ted Kennedy and his wife, Victoria, who also own Portuguese water dogs. The non-shedding undercoat addresses Malia's allergies.

"I think the fact that Barack Obama picked this dog says a lot about (the family)," Quanrud said, adding that Portuguese water dogs are casual, highly social and not fussy. "I think Bo is an excellent choice for the Obamas, because he will get plenty of attention in every way."

Ruby's mother, Breezy, lives in Minneapolis with breeders Beryl Nord and Tom Kaiser and is rated one of the top Portuguese water dogs in the United States. Quanrud and Meixell co-own Ruby with Nord and Kaiser.

"After many years of research on this breed, we feel very lucky to be chosen to have Ruby," Quanrud said.

While Bo is a good fit for the Obama family, a Portuguese water dog might not be right for others, and Quanrud is concerned that the breed's presidential popularity could induce people to seek the dog for the wrong reasons.

"When you pick a dog like this, you have to realize they're always going to be with you," she said. "This dog is not for everyone and needs a lot of attention to be happy."

Quanrud said it's important that prospective dog owners research what type of dog would best fit their lifestyles.

"We are absolutely in love with our dog, but the Portuguese water dog is not for everyone," she said. "(They are) extremely social and attached to their owners."

Portuguese water dogs, which can swim up to five miles, were bred to work with fishermen in the ocean, Quanrud said, adding that the dogs pulled fishing nets out into the sea and even herded fish into the nets. Bred to understand and respond to many commands, the dogs were also trained as lifeguards and delivered messages from ship to ship, she said.

"The more I know about dogs, the more fascinated I become," Quanrud said. "Dogs are the only creatures that have been bred for specific purposes as helpmates to humans. Each breed has specific traits, both physical and personality, that through the years helped humans with different tasks. Knowing these traits when choosing a breed is very important."

Quanrud, who works with injured workers, first saw a Portuguese water dog about seven years ago while visiting a client in his home.

"I could not believe how talkative and interactive this dog was with his owner," she said. "I thought it was the smartest dog I had ever seen."

"She is a very determined person," Meixell said, smiling. "She basically started saying over and over she was going to get a Portuguese water dog. When she says it over and over, it happens. Otherwise, I get no rest."

Becoming the owner of a Portuguese water dog takes time, Meixell said, adding that the interviews and back-ground checks are rigorous, comparable to the process of the adoption of a child.

Ruby was the one who chose Quanrud, Meixell said.

"This dog, she wouldn't leave me alone," Quanrud said of the then-5-week-old Ruby. "It was like she picked me."

Quanrud explained that the breeder matches puppies with owners based on personalities.

"She's an outgoing dog, but Julie's an outgoing person," Meixell said. "I think Beryl noticed they had similar personalities."

"She's been very instrumental in helping us," Meixell said of Nord.

"She's like our dog mentor," Quanrud said.

Ruby became an AKC champion very quickly last year, Quanrud said. "She had to do that before she could ever have puppies. That was in our contract."

Quanrud previously had a corgi that was a therapy dog. "She worked with me in a hospital for severely injured and ill children," she said.

"As I got to know more about the (Portuguese water dog), I came to believe this would be a very good candidate as a therapy dog, especially for children with autism."

Quanrud and Meixell hope to breed Ruby within the next year, and Quanrud's dream is to train the dogs as ser-vice dogs for autistic children.

"I believe that the extreme interactive nature of these dogs would assist with therapy around communication and safety issues," she said.

Ruby has a very playful and friendly personality. She plays hide and seek, cuddles and often "talks" in a voice that resembles Scooby-Doo. She knocks on doors and brings a brush when she wants her soft, curly black fur brushed. She does not shed, but still needs to be groomed and clipped.

"Ruby, because of her breeding, is very attentive to our words," Quanrud said. "She has the absolute need to be by your side watching you for commands."

"I love her - she is just the most amazing dog," said 16-year-old daughter Emily as she sat on the floor with her brother, Jack, 10, and petted Ruby. "She feels like a human."

Quanrud pointed out that Portuguese water dogs are versatile and have a range of personalities. "Not all of them are like Ruby," she said.

"The best thing about the breed is its versatility," Jean Hassebroek, corresponding secretary of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, said in a news release issued by the PWDCA to encourage prospective owners to research the breed. "PWDs have been full-time sheep herders, R.E.A.D. therapy dogs and a FEMA 1 hero. But they can also be champion couch potatoes, content to just hang out."

At a minimum of about $1,500, Portuguese water dogs are pricey as well as uncommon.

The family's other dog is a mutt that cost $50. They figure Reagan, 7, is a border collie-American bulldog cross.

"I love him too, very, very much," Quanrud said. "I love him just as much as Ruby."

You could say Reagan also has a White House connection.

"Reagan was very black and white, and so is our dog," Quanrud said.

On the Net:

Portuguese Water Dog Club of America:

Portuguese Water Dog Club of the Twin Cities:

Official "first dog" blog entry: