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The President's Pets

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Three animals (two dogs and a cat) are living in a place of privilege: The White House. Early Show Contributor Debbye Turner , who is also a veterinarian, recently spent some time with the first family to learn about their pets.

Many might argue that nothing compares to the relationship between a dog and its owner. For President Bush, the owner of Barney, a Scottish terrier and Spot, an English springer spaniel, that couldn't be more true.

This past Tuesday, a day during which the president would be considering such weighty topics as critical healthcare appointments and a decision by Yasser Arafat to boycott the Arab Summit, the president started his day as he usually does: in the company of his dogs.

"I've always been a dog lover," says the president. "We've had dogs ever since I was a kid, and I just love to be around them."

When he's not traveling, here is how the most powerful man in the free world starts each day: In the Rose Garden, rain or shine, alone with his dogs.

Says President Bush, "This is one of the most refreshing parts of the day, to come out here with them. They are so excited to get outside and run around and…I like to get to work and kind of share this moment together."

Why is this an important part of his routine?

"Well, because I love the dogs, for starters," says Mr. Bush. "They're a special part of our life. You know, Barney is lively and fun and loves life, and old Spot here is on the very end of her life. But she is such a loyal friend… Everywhere I go, she goes, (and) everywhere Laura goes. If Spotty's with her, Spotty will follow."

And don't forget about the Bushes' 9-year-old cat, India, who made a rare appearance for The Early Show. As the first lady explains, "She's a good girl, but she likes to stay upstairs." In general, says Mrs. Bush, the cat is "having a really good time in the White House."

Ask the president if he is a dog person or a cat person, and he will say both, adding, "I wasn't much of a cat person until I met Laura."

"He got a cat when he married me," Mrs. Bush explains.

Spot, now 13 years old, was just nine days old when the first President Bush introduced her and the rest of Millie's litter to the press in the Rose Garden.

Correspondent Turner pointed out to the current President Bush, "I know it probably has not been lost on you that Spot was born right here in the White House, so she is a second-generation first pet, if you will. You are a second-generation U.S. president. Is there any special bond between the two of you because of that?"

Says the president, "Well that may be true… She remembers her youth, probably, and I remember mine.

At just a year and a half old, Barney is definitely the problem child of the two. In the White House, being a troublemaker (like Barney) will keep you out of important places. But being cool (like Spot) gets you in. And, in Washington, it's all about access.

"Spotty will come over and, mainly in the morning and hang out, and she's got a high security clearance," quips the president. "She hasn't told one state secret yet."

Barney doesn't seem to be intimidated at all by his surroundings. And Laura Bush confirms, "He's not. And he feels like the White House is his home. Spotty, who, of course, has lived in a lot of other places, is a little bit more disoriented. Looking around sort of like, 'Where am I?'"

Dale Haney is the White House's chief horticulturist. But he also has been the chief caretaker of presidential pets for close to 30 years. His opinion of Barney and Spotty: "These dogs are great. They love being around people… Spotty really kind of hangs around with you, doesn't want to be left alone too much."

Says the president, "Barney on the other hand, this little fella here is a very independent guy. He's also a watch dog."

You could sign him up with the Secret Service detail?

"Well, he kind of likes to hang out with them," says Mr. Bush. "He'll hang out with the Secret Service to get a few pointers on how to make the White House more secure."

He does miss his dogs when they can't travel with him, and that's often evident when he comes home and the dogs greet him as he steps off Marine One.

And, towards the end of the day, exhausted from their busy schedule, the dogs have one last appointment - unwinding with their master.

Barney, says President Bush, "loves to play ball. His favorite thing… I put a basketball out there on the South Lawn and he'll run it with his nose, and push it, and run it…until he drops. And Spot loves to play ball, and so one of my favorite things to do in the afternoon is -- if I've got time off my schedule or right before I go upstairs -- is to come out here to run them and play ball with them."

He continues, "This brings some normalcy to our life. You know, one of the things that's important for a president is to maintain perspective and part of my perspective, keeping perspective, is my faith and my family, and part of our family is our pets."

The ban on the Oval Office visits has been lifted. Barney now, in fact, is allowed to go into the Oval Office on occasion.

And in case you're wondering, Barney and India the cat (despite their differences) both sleep with the president and Mrs. Bush. Spot opts for a chair.