• Blog
  • July 16th, 2017

PRESIDENTIAL DOGS

By Joel M. Vance

I suppose there is some interest in what the President intends to do about the Mideast, education, Social Security and health, but what I want to know is where’s the news about Dog One, the Presidential Dog?
Although why would Donald Trump need a dog when he already has a pit bull named Steve Bannon and a yappy little rat terrier named Sean Spicer. Every time I see KellyAnne Conway, a line from the television show Hill Street Blues pops into my mind. One of the cops, Andy Renko, when told that he was being assigned a police dog, grumbled “probably stick me with some ugly old bitch.” Don’t know why that bit of dialogue stuck in my mind–possibly for use many years later.
Presidential dogs have been traditional and a subject of interest for a long, long time, although I have a pleasant daydream of a large and incontinent Great Dane continuously watering the furniture in Trump’s private apartment in Trump Tower. In my daydream the dog also has persistent diarrhea. Did you hear squat (speaking of doggie diarrhea) during the campaign between Trump and Hillary Clinton about the necessity for a first dog? Just didn’t happen. Instead, the two candidates were occupied taking pot shots at each other and ignoring one of life’s most important questions that that of the love and unquestioned loyalty of the dog to its master. Of course you can get that from Bannon and Spicer but who the hell would want to? Give me a dog any time.
The Obama family followed in the tradition of installing a first dog by adding a Portuguese water dog in 2009, named Bo. In 2013 they added Sunny, Bo’s little sister. There are no rumors of a Trump dog, but a Rottweiler with an attitude would seem appropriate.
George W. Bush had two dogs, a Scotty (shades of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Fala) and Spot, son of Millie, the White House dog when the first George Bush was President but you almost never heard anything about them.
Where was the news about the George W. Bush First Dog(s) during two campaigns or about the dogs belonging to the next president? In all the months of campaign rhetoric not one of the many contenders mentioned his dog. This is a nation of dog lovers and, as one who is owned by several Brittanies, I wanted to know everything about the candidates’ canine companions.
Few White Houses have been without a First Dog. Bill Clinton had a cat named Socks which got entirely too much publicity until the press tired of writing about a cat, but his dog, Buddy, a Labrador retriever, rarely was mentioned. Buddy, a tremendously handsome chocolate Lab, was killed by a car in 2000
The first First Dog belonged to Maria Monroe, daughter of President James (1817-1825) who also was the first child in the White House and the first to be married there (at 17). The dog was a spaniel of some sort, but she probably did not hunt behind it, presidential daughters not being noted for upland hunting enthusiasm.
Not all presidents have had dogs. Benjamin Harrison had a goat named His Whiskers, which tells you quite a bit about Benjamin Harrison. Once the goat ran away, down Pennsylvania Avenue, pulling a cart containing the President’s grandson, Benny. Mr. Harrison chased the cart and the press had fun with it.
Obviously something is missing from politics today, at least at the presidential level. When was the last time you saw the president chasing a goat cart down Pennsylvania Avenue?
Another example of how things have changed is the story, possibly true, of a small boy who sneaked onto the White House grounds and was fishing for goldfish in a pond when King Tut, a German shepherd belonging to Herbert Hoover, grabbed the kid by the seat of his pants and held him until the gardener showed up.
Today you’d have a dozen Secret Service agents, a hovering gunship, a SWAT team and a detachment of Green Berets all over any little kid who even looked through the fence at the goldfish pond.
As you might expect, Theodore Roosevelt, the first and greatest of the conservation-minded, outdoor-loving presidents, had a virtual zoo in the White House, including six children. All the kids, by accounts as wild as Mr. Roosevelt’s legendary charge up San Juan Hill, had ponies and lizards and rats and squirrels and even bears (a garter snake was named Emily Spinach because it was green and they had a friend named Emily).
For all Mr. Roosevelt’s hunting proclivities, apparently none of his menagerie was a hunting dog. He probably had so many that they weren’t worth mentioning. He did have a bull terrier, Pete, who was banished from the White House after he ripped the britches of the French ambassador.
Barbara Bush, wife of the first Bush president, actually ghost-wrote Millie’s Book, their springer spaniel’s autobiography, which earned more than one million dollars in royalties which Mrs. Bush donated to a foundation to endorse literacy (in people, not dogs). Mr. Bush Sr., in a moment of election year pique, was reported to have said of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, “My dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than these two bozos.”
Caroline Kennedy’s dog, Pushinka, was a gift from Nikita Khrushchev and no doubt had the most thorough vet exam in history to make sure the dog was not implanted with listening devices. I can imagine the dog whispering into a paw-implanted transmitter, “Boss, the guy really does mean get those missiles out of Cuba!”
George Washington started the tradition of presidential pooches. He raised and hunted foxhounds. Mr. Washington kept his dogs in a kennel, not in the presidential home. Not so the Reagans who invited Lucky, an 85-pound sheepdog, given to Mr. Reagan by a March of Dimes poster child, into the White House. But Lucky, belying his name, used to drag Mrs. Reagan around as if she were a chew toy and he also misbehaved on the White House carpets.
Mrs. Reagan was less tolerant of such misbehavior than Mrs. Bush would be with Millie, so Lucky soon found himself far from the hustle and bustle of Washington, banished to the Reagan ranch in California. His successor was a King Charles spaniel who, presumably, scratched at the door when necessary, and heeled properly on leash.
Franklin Roosevelt’s black Scottie Fala was photographed almost as much as was the president. Fala was a shameless camera hound and once tried to crash an inaugural parade by jumping in the car seat that Sam Rayburn, the longtime Speaker of the House, was supposed to occupy.
Mr. Roosevelt, who loved his little dog (he once sent a destroyer back for Fala after the pup had been left behind on the Aleutian Islands), no doubt would have preferred Fala to the dour Speaker, but politics is politics and Mr. Rayburn got his seat back.
Another Scottie was Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s shared gift to his alleged mistress, Kay Sommersby, during World War Two. The dog’s name was Telek, a combination of Telegraph Cottage, an English retreat for the future president, and the name Kay.
The most scandalous event involving a presidential dog was when Lyndon Johnson picked one of his two beagles up by the ears, igniting the outrage of dog lovers everywhere (his choice of names was somewhat less than inspirational: he called them Him and Her). Presidents, being politicians, know the value of being considered dog lovers and Mr. Johnson was a consummate politician, but he stumbled badly with the ear-pulling incident. “Those Republicans are really bashing me about picking those darned dogs up by the ears,” he grumbled to his vice-president Hubert Humphrey.
There possibly were other issues involved in Mr. Johnson’s decision not to run for a second term, but Beaglegate certainly didn’t gain him any swing votes.
Mr. Johnson also had a mutt, found at a Texas gas station, who would howl duets with the President in the Oval Office. There are photos of the two of them with their mouths open, heads lifted in song. That must have been almost as inspiring as watching Benjamin Harrison chase his goat.
Harry Truman defended his fellow Democrat over the ear-lift incident: “What the hell are the critics complaining about. That’s how you handle hounds.”
Mr. Truman also said, “If you want a friend in politics, get a dog.” But Mr. Truman did not follow his own advice (or maybe did not want a friend in politics). He didn’t have a dog (he was given a cocker spaniel as First Dog, but decided not to keep it). Calvin Coolidge said, “Any man who doesn’t like dogs and doesn’t want them around shouldn’t be in the White House.”
Only once has a dog become intimately involved in presidential politics, other than as an attractive accessory and that was when vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, hounded (sorry for the dog pun) by allegations that rich backers were supporting him a luxurious lifestyle, made what became known as the Checkers speech in which he cried poor, using as an example his wife’s plain Republican cloth coat and emotionally defended accepting the gift of a cocker spaniel, which his daughter Tricia named Checkers.
“Regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it,” Mr. Nixon declared. And Mr. Nixon remained on the ticket and Checkers became a presidential dog.
Jimmy Carter is a longtime quail hunter, but his presidential dog was only part bird dog–a springer spaniel, mixed with genuine alley mutt. Gerald Ford, a golfer, not a hunter, did own a hunting dog, a golden retriever named Liberty, who whelped in the White House (one puppy later became a Guide Dog for the blind).
So, presidential dogs have abounded (and bounded) and Trump unfortunately might realize there is great publicity value in fondling the soft ears of a loving dog while evading pointed questions from nosy reporters (just don’t use the dog’s ears as a handle).
The other hand, I fear that Trump actually will get a dog and as the old saying goes” that’s a fate that I wouldn’t wish upon a dog.” If Congress, the courts, and public opinion don’t bring justice to the political nightmare of the Addams family we are now enduring, perhaps the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can bring some justice to the junkyard dog’s life that Trump and his dysfunctional unreality show has inflicted on the country.

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