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  • July 17th, 2020

PRESIDENTIAL POOCHES

By Joel M. Vance

 

It’s almost a part of the oath of office that a president of the United States must have a dog. But President. Donald J Trump turned down the offer of a dog for his son Baron possibly believing that one son of a bitch in the White House was sufficient.

 

There is also the possibility that the offered dog, variously reported as a labradoodle, a combination of Labrador and Poodle or a Goldendoodle, a mix of Golden Retriever and Poodle—both mixed breeds, considered among the most intelligent of all dogs, not only would be smarter than he is, but also for the good of the nation might organize, functioning as a good general would, a battalion of Rottweilers to attack him.  Voters, for your information, Joe Biden owns a rescue dog named Major, a German shepherd who has been described as looking a lot “like the dog version of himself.”)

 

Ivana Trump, first of Donnie’s trifecta of wives, reported that her Poodle, Chappy, would bark at The Donald when he approached her closet (why he would be approaching her closet is open to speculation—I wouldn’t discount the possibility that he was giving some consideration to emulating J Edgar Hoover who enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothing. Ivana said in her memoir about her time with Fatso, “Donald was not a dog fan.” She said to him “it’s me and Chappy or no one.” And shortly it was no one except whoever was next in line.

 

To be fair to Trump Ivana added that Trump didn’t object to Chappy sleeping next to her on their marital bed. And Snopes.com says that there is really no evidence to indicate Trump has a built-in aversion to dogs, even though he routinely uses the word “dog” to insult people—he once said Mario Rubio was “sweating like a dog” although if he knows so much about dogs, he should know dogs don’t sweat. And fact Donnie was photographed cuddling a Beagle, winner of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, who was invited to the White House. There is no record that he loaded up the dog on cheeseburgers and fries from his favorite fast food restaurant as he usually does for visiting athletes.

 

George Washington owned foxhounds named Drunkard, Mopsey, Taster, Cloe, Tipsy, Forester, Captain, Lady Rover, Sweet Lips and Searcher, among others. From Abraham Lincoln’s Fido to Lyndon Johnson’s beagles, Him and Her According to the Presidential Pet Museum, the White House grounds have hosted cows, chickens, a goat, a pair of bald eagles, Shawl Neck game chickens, at least one alligator and a tobacco-chewing ram. Calvin Coolidge alone hosted a black bear, a pygmy hippo, a bobcat, a donkey, a wallaby, a goose, a thrush, several canaries and two raccoons. Plus a pair of lion cubs, named — seriously — Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.

 

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 Ronald 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 The First would be with Millie, with whom Barbara Bush wrote a best-selling book. 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.

 

The choice of a first dog breed sometimes has been a matter of national significance as closely followed as batting averages of a favorite baseball player. There was much breathless speculation on what dog the Obamas would choose and even more discussion about their eventual choice of a Portuguese water dog.

 

As far as Trump is concerned, given his devotion to Vladimir Putin, I’d suggest the Russian dictator donate a Russian wolfhound fully equipped to transmit intelligence to the Kremlin right out of the box. Today’s dog can be equipped well beyond a simple collar. Many have microchips implanted with personal information designed to identify them but, through the miracle of miniaturization, a microchip can have enough wizardry imprinted on it to spy on every aspect of the White House including Trump’s thought processes if there are any. Electronic collars contain GPS systems so that the handler (i.e. Vladimir Putin) can follow every movement, not only of the dog, but the dog’s putative owner.

 

A built-in monitoring system in the collar could record and transmit every word spoken in public or private by Trump about the nation’s secrets. Although he probably would just blurt them out at a press conference , but if they already weren’t compromised by the Bigmouth in Chief they could be monitored by the Kremlin as if they actually made sense.

 

Russian dealings in presidential dogs actually has a precedent. 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 the hell out of Cuba!”

 

With the revelation that Trump is not a dog fan and does not have a dog, historians have made much of the fact that he would be the first president in 100 years not to have one—the last dogless President before him supposedly was William McKinley, elected president in 1897 and assassinated in 1901. Besides being averse to dogs, McKinley was a Republican as is Trump and each had a five associated with his presidency–McKinley number 25 and Trump number 45. Trump terms himself a “war president”, fighting valiantly as only a war hero can against the Covid 19 pandemic, and not very well, while McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish-American War. Trump has no vice president who can lead the charge up San Juan Hill as did McKinley’s Veep, Teddy Roosevelt. He has instead Mike Pence. Who, if Trump ever stops suddenly, will break his nose.

 

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 hear anything about them.  Barbara  Bush,  wife of Bush One, 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.”

 

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.

 

 Aside from Trump and McKinley 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. If the kid even looked like he might be Latin American, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would stick him in a dog crate and ship him to Guatemala.

 

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.

 

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).  Neither did Calvin Coolidge, who nevertheless said, “Any man who doesn’t like dogs and doesn’t want them around shouldn’t be in the White House.”  So the assertion that Trump and McKinley, separated by a century, are the only two dogless presidents would seem to be wrong.

 

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 was 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 and  his  successors should 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).

 

There have been many country songs celebrating dogs. “Old Shep” and “Old Blue” spring to mind. But the most descriptive anthem for any unlucky canine ever to become Donald J Trump’s Dog One was written years ago by Jack Clement and sung by Johnny Cash “That Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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