White House Grounds Keeper Talks About Public Fascination With Presidential Pets

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dale Haney is the keeper of the White House grounds. In nearly 40 years of keeping the grass green and the flowers blooming, he's also managed to cultivate something just as important: relationships with the presidents' pooches.

Haney is often spotted walking Bo, the Obama family's Portuguese water dog. In fact, he's tended to every White House pup since King Timahoe, Richard Nixon's Irish setter.

Haney, 57, has been a White House fixture since 1972. After getting a degree in horticulture from Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, N.C., he continued his training in Washington and basically was discovered for his green thumb, as he tells the story.

"They heard about me and they called me to come over here for an interview and I came and here I still am," he said during a tour of the gardens one recent rainy morning when first lady Michelle Obama -- Bo's primary walker -- was out of town.

That meant Haney would be Bo's handler until she returned from a day trip to Florida.

"I have him a little bit more" when she's traveling, said Haney, who said he's amazed by the public's fascination with White House pets.

"Sometimes I think they're more interested in the pets than the president," he said. "It's real amazing."
Take Bo.

Malia and Sasha Obama, now 11 and 8, long had wanted a dog, but were told they'd have to wait until after the presidential election last year. After Obama told the girls onower level of the White House residence at about 6 a.m, and calls it a day around 4 p.m. He has a staff of about 20, including electricians, gardeners and repairmen -- all National Park Service employees.

The agency is responsible for maintaining the White House grounds and gardens.

Haney works for the National Park Service, too. A career employee, he began at the White House as a gardener, then was supervisor of grounds maintenance and lead horticulturist before becoming superintendent of all the grounds last fall.

Many presidents plant commemorative trees -- Obama planted a Littleleaf Linden last week -- to mark their time in office, but the Obamas took the concept a step further with the vegetable garden. It's a big change, and one that's proved to be more popular than the White House ever anticipated. The crops are served at the White House and some are donated to a neighborhood soup kitchen.

The Obamas are "very into the grounds," said Haney, who is now serving his eighth president.

"They know what's going on because they're always out here walking the dog," he said.