Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, who trained Obama family dog Bo, dies at 52

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Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, the trainer who prepared the Obama family dog Bo for life in the White House, has died. She was 52.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz died Wednesday of respiratory failure at a Virginia hospital, her ex-husband Paul Stasiewicz said.


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.

Vicki Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, had asked Sylvia-Stasiewicz to determine if the 5-month-old puppy was suitable for a family with children. The Kennedys had previously trusted Sylvia-Stasiewicz with training their dogs, so the request wasn’t unusual.

When Kennedy called to check on the puppy a few weeks later, Sylvia-Stasiewicz reported the dog was perfectly suited for a family with children. Kennedy then confided she and her husband were thinking of giving him to the first family as a gift.

Besides training the president’s dog and the Kennedys’ three Portuguese water dogs, Sylvia-Stasiewicz also trained former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s dog. She lived in Hume, Va.

‘For me, it’s always about the dogs,’ Sylvia-Stasiewicz told USA Today in 2009. ‘There have been times when I’ve worked with people for a long time before realizing they were famous or high-profile or connected in some way.’

Sylvia-Stasiewicz was born in Providence, R.I., in 1958. In the 1990s she founded Merit Puppy Training, which focused on training dogs through positive reinforcement. Her experience formed the basis for a 2010 book, ‘The Love That Dog Training Program,’ which she co-wrote with writer Larry Kay.

‘I got a little teary-eyed when he left,’ Sylvia-Stasiewicz told St. Louis Magazine after Bo’s debut. ‘You get attached. I drove him to the White House and just stayed in the background, because it was their moment.’

-- Associated Press