pet project

Wema, a Portuguese water dog mix in a Fairmont animal shelter, stands ready to answer the president’s call for a White House dog.

A Fairmont animal shelter wants to hook up one of its dogs with the new president’s family.

And to make the animal more tactfully appealing to the African-American first family, its name has been changed from Blackie to Wema — Swahili for “kindness and compassion.”

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed. This would just pave the way for awareness of shelter dogs everywhere in the United States,” said Cindilee Connor, president of the Martin County Humane Society.

Earlier in the month, President-elect Barack Obama announced his family had narrowed its preferences of White House dog to two — labradoodle and Portuguese water dog.

The Obamas have said they would prefer to adopt a dog from an animal shelter, and it must have a hypoallergenic coat in deference to daughter Malia’s allergies.

The Portuguese water dog mix at the Fairmont shelter was turned in Jan. 4 by a local family that had found it wandering.

A search on www.petfinder.com shows there are four Portuguese water dogs available for adoption in U.S. shelters.

Animal rights groups have launched a campaign to ensure the Obama family makes good on its stated desire for a shelter dog.

If Wema is to become Malia’s mutt, the presidential pooch, The Wag of the West Wing, the First Fur, or whatever other alliterative appellation the media is sure to saddle it with, he’ll likely have to overcome plenty of competition.

But even if he doesn’t, Connor said the Martin County group’s campaign will have been worth it if the president’s family opts for adoption.

“We’re promoting this dog specifically, but altruistically we hope this helps shelter dogs everywhere.”

The Portuguese water dog is a breed similar to poodles. They were once taught to herd fish into Portuguese fishermen’s nets, retrieve lost tackle and to act as couriers from ship to ship and ship to shore.

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