November 14, 2008

First Dogs: Raising the Woof in the White House

Update: The First Dog Debuts

WASHINGTON — If you want a friend in Washington, the old saying goes, get a dog. Since the days of George Washington, most U.S. presidents have.

Hundreds of pets have lived at the White House, including parrots, goats, raccoons and cats. But dogs top the list as the favorite presidential pet.

A new exhibit, "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets," opens Nov. 14, 2008, at the Newseum, showcasing some of the top dogs who have resided at the nation’s most prestigious address.

On display are images of dogs belonging to 22 presidents. Journalists helped turn many of the pets into national celebrities, including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, Fala, who had his own press secretary, and Warren G. Harding’s Airedale, Laddie Boy, who had his own chair at Cabinet meetings. A book "written" by George H.W. Bush’s English springer spaniel, Millie, sold more copies than Bush’s own book.

President-elect Barack Obama said he intended to fulfill a very important campaign pledge to his daughters Malia and Sasha — that they would get a dog after the election. Newseum visitors can vote for their choice for the next presidential pooch while viewing the exhibit.

Some highlights of other presidents and their pets include:

  • • Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido was the first presidential pet to be photographed, but it wasn’t a happy occasion. Lincoln was leaving Fido, a mongrel, in Illinois and wanted a memento for his sons before setting out for his 1861 inauguration in Washington.

  • • Calvin and Grace Coolidge maintained a menagerie during his 1920s presidency, including 12 dogs and a pair of raccoons. On display is a photograph of their white collie Prudence Prim showing off her Easter bonnet for Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.

  • • Herbert Hoover won fans, and possibly his 1928 election, by posing with his police dog, King Tut, for campaign photos. He and his wife, Lou, kept nine dogs at the White House, including their Norwegian elkhound, Weegie.

  • • John F. Kennedy was allergic to dogs. Even so, the Kennedys had nine, including Clipper, Charlie, Wolf, Shannon and the mixed breed Pushinka, a gift from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

  • • In April 1964, dog lovers protested after seeing front-page photos of Lyndon B. Johnson lifting his beagles, Him and Her, by the ears. Insisting to reporters that the dogs didn’t mind, Johnson demonstrated the move again days later.

  • • Forced to account for $18,000 in questionable gifts during the 1952 election, Republican vice presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon insisted to a television audience that the only gift he received was for his children — a cocker spaniel named Checkers. He won voters’ sympathies when he explained, "The kids love the dog … and we’re going to keep it."

  • • Gerald R. Ford’s photographer, David Hume Kennerly, was looking for a golden retriever for his boss in 1974 but didn’t want to reveal who the owner would be. "Do they own or rent?" the breeder asked. "I guess you could say they live in public housing," Kennerly deadpanned. Ford named the dog Liberty.

  • • George W. Bush joked that his Scottish terrier, Barney, was the son he never had. Bush’s "Barney Cam" videos, showing life at the White House from the dog’s view, were an Internet sensation. Barney made news again in November 2008 when he bit a reporter who tried to pet him.

Note: "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets" is scheduled to remain on display at the Newseum through May 2009.

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