A rumor states that President Obama pays his dog trainer $102,000 a year in tax-payer money. Today we'll take a look at this accusation.
This accusation gained popularity as the 2012 election cycle heated up. There was a popular chain email entitled “Barack Obama’s 32 Month Report Card by Rich Carroll” which many assertions were made, including:
“First President to keep a dog trainer on retainer for $102,000.00 a year at taxpayer expense.”
The chain email did not provide any sources for the claims being made. A later variant reads:
“President Barack Obama has used taxpayers’ money to pay the salary of a dog trainer, who doesn’t even work full-time, but is just on retainer in case of so-called ‘dog-training’ emergencies. The part-time dog trainer generates $102,000 of yearly income.”
The only dog trainer that has been reported for Bo (the Obama family dog) was Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz. According to Wikipedia, “Bo was enrolled on January 5, 2009, with (Senator Ted) Kennedy’s obedience trainer Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, in Hume, Virginia.”
The Obamas received the pet in April of 2009, and the training by Ms. Sylva-Stasiewicz had already occurred three months earlier, in January 2009. Her obituary points out that she didn’t know the dog was headed for the White House:
“Sylvia-Stasiewicz initially had no idea the Portuguese water dog that arrived at her Virginia home two years ago was destined for the Obama family.”
Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz passed away on January 12, 2011. She founded Merit Puppy Training in the 1990s and co-wrote a book in 2010 entitled, “The Love That Dog Training Program.” You can read an interview with her from 2009 here.
The Obamas did catch some flack in 2009 when a story showed that White House horticulturist Dale Haney was spotted walking Bo, not long after the first family vowed to be responsible owners.
Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan and Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz had a sort of public disagreement about the quality of Bo’s training.
A meme has begun to circulate which compares this $102,000 figure with that of Navy Seals. The meme includes the phrase “plus perks” which appears to be an addition to the original claim that a trainer was simply on retainer.
Did the Dog and Handler Fly Alone?
The book “Presidential Perks Gone Royal” claims that Bo and a handler flew alone, and asserts that this handler was paid $102,000 per year. As the book description on Amazon reads:
“A dog walker is also always on hand. One was reported to be paid $102,000 a year to walk and pick up after the first-family’s canine. On at least one airline trip in the presidential fleet, the only passengers aboard were the First Canine and his handler.”
This refers to a July, 2010 report which covered an Obama family trip to Maine. It was originally reported that the dog and an aide arrived separately. Because some believed this meant that the aide and dog flew alone, the newspaper issued a clarification which read:
Today’s story about the arrival of the Obamas said the Obama’s dog and one aide arrived on a small jet before the First Family, but there were other occupants on the plane, including several other staffers. The presidential party took two small jets to the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton because the airport was too small to accommodate the president’s usual jet.
The “handler” that flew with Bo was personal aide Reggie Love. His role as personal aide to the President ran from 2009 through 2011. It’s a stretch to refer to Love as a dog handler or trainer, although it appears that he did take on some of those duties on occasion, just as horticulturist Dale Haney did as well.
Source of the $102,000 Figure
Given the information above, it isn’t surprising to find out that, as ABC news reported in 2011, that Reggie Love’s salary was $102,000. Thus, we have the source of the claim above.
The only trainer listed for the Presidential dog passed away in 2011. It appears that the $102,000 figure actually refers to Reggie Love, Personal Aide to the President, who did watch the Presidential dog on occasion as one of his tasks.
Perhaps a more appropriate question should be if a presidential personal aide – also known as a “body man” – is worth $102,000 per year.
Updated November 22, 2014
Originally published February 2013