History 401

Dog History – Presidential Dogs – Level 4

Presidential Dogs

Dogs have helped the nation’s leaders with companionship and in some cases, image.
By Kim Campbell Thornton

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

That’s a famous piece of advice to politicians from a top dog in the Executive Branch: President Harry S. Truman. (Truman himself was not a dog lover and gave away the Cocker Spaniel puppy sent to him by a woman in his home state of Missouri.) Lots of presidents before and after Truman were much fonder of dogs and shared their White House digs with them.

Our first president George Washington, who served from 1789 to 1797, was an avid fox hunter. His hounds were among the ancestors of the breed we now know as the American Foxhound. Washington was quite creative in naming his dogs: His pack included Drunkard, Tipler, Tipsy, Sweetlips, Scentwell and Vulcan.

The third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson, whose two terms ran from 1801 to 1809, had two Briards from his time in France. The Briard, which has been described as a heart wrapped in fur, is a large herding dog and flock guardian. This protective and intelligent dog stands out for a shaggy coat that can be black, gray or tawny.

Franklin Pierce, who served as president from 1853 to 1857, is said to have been given a pair of Japanese Chin by Commodore Matthew Perry after Perry and his gunboats forced Japan to open its markets to the Western world in 1854. Pierce later gave the dogs away. Could that be why his party didn’t nominate him for a second term?

It’s a wonder that Theodore Roosevelt, in office from 1901 to 1909, had time to run the country with all the pets his family had. The dogs alone — half of which were terriers — included Pete, a Bull Terrier; Skip, a Rat Terrier; Jack and Peter, simply described as terriers; Blackjack, a Manchester Terrier; Manchu, a Pekingese; Rollo, a Saint Bernard; Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; and Gem and Susan, “dogs of unidentified breeds.” Not surprisingly, New York City’s Theodore Roosevelt Park at Central Park West and W. 81st Street is dog-friendly.

Warren G. Harding’s Airedale Terrier, Laddie Boy, may have received more press coverage than Harding himself. Laddie Boy presided at the 1923 Easter egg roll on the White House lawn, sat in on Cabinet meetings on a specially carved chair, accompanied Harding when he went golfing and celebrated his birthday by treating the neighborhood dogs to a dog-biscuit birthday cake. Sadly for Laddie Boy, Harding died of a heart attack after only two years in office, from 1921 to 1923. A statue of Laddie Boy, created from donated pennies that were melted down, can be seen in the Smithsonian Institution.

Calvin Coolidge, who became president in 1923 after Harding’s death and served until 1929, was nicknamed “Silent Cal” for his taciturn ways, but on his love of dogs he was outspoken. “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House,” Coolidge once said. His own White House menagerie included a pair of white Collies named Rob Roy and Prudence Prim. Rob Roy attended Coolidge’s weekly press conferences and was a vocal participant.

Herbert Hoover’s German Shepherd Dog, King Tut, appeared in Hoover’s campaign photographs and successfully helped him to appear warm and friendly. Hoover entered office in 1929, only to be battered by the Great Depression. Luckily, to keep his spirits up, he had not only King Tut, but also two Fox Terriers named Big Ben and Sonnie, a Norwegian Elkhound named Weejie, and an Irish Wolfhound named Patrick, but they weren’t enough to help him win re-election in 1932.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier, Fala, was so well-known and popular that he had his own press secretary. When Roosevelt was running a losing campaign for a fourth term, Fala helped turn the election around for him after Roosevelt gave a speech attacking opponents who wrongly accused him of spending taxpayer money to retrieve Fala after supposedly leaving the dog behind on the Aleutian Islands. The FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., includes a statue of Fala alongside that of the president, who served from 1933 to 1945.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, in office from 1963 to 1969, created an uproar in the country after he was photographed holding his Beagles, Him and Her, by their ears. Johnson also had a small, white, mixed-breed dog, Yuki, who is best known for “singing” with Johnson during a visit by the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain.

Presidential pups are so important to image these days that it’s almost unheard of for a president not to have a dog. When Barack Obama took office in 2008, people were as interested in what kind of dog he would get for his family (he eventually brought home Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog) as they were in who he was going to name to his Cabinet.

Kim Campbell Thornton is a freelance writer in Southern California.

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