April 22, 2009

First Dogs: Presidential Pets in the White House

President Obama with Bo at the  White House. (Pete Souza/The White House)
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President Obama with Bo at the White House. (Pete Souza/The White House)

President Johnson with Him and Her. (Charles P. Gorry/Courtesy The AP)
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President Johnson with Him and Her. (Charles P. Gorry/Courtesy The AP)

Vice president Nixon holds Checkers. (Courtesy The AP)
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Vice president Nixon holds Checkers. (Courtesy The AP)

President Ford with Liberty. (David Hume Kennerly/ Gerald R. Ford Library)
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President Ford with Liberty. (David Hume Kennerly/ Gerald R. Ford Library)

President Bush and Barney. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Courtesy The AP)
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President Bush and Barney. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Courtesy The AP)

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.

The Newseum’s popular exhibit "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets," showcases some of the top dogs who have resided at the nation’s most prestigious address. On display are images of dogs belonging to 23 presidents, including the newest addition: Bo, a six-month-old Portuguese water dog — a gift to the Obamas from Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, Fala, had his own press secretary. Warren G. Harding’s Airedale, Laddie Boy, 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.

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.
PRESIDENTIAL POOCH POLL
CONTENDERSVOTES
Shelter Dog20,676
Bichon Frisé7,283
Wheaten Terrier5,193
Miniature Schnauzer3,006
Poodle2,241
Chinese Crested1,605
Final tally - April 16, 2009

During a recent poll asking Newseum visitors which kind of dog they thought the Obamas should choose, 40,000 votes were cast; more than 20,000 selected a shelter dog over five breeds recommended by the American Kennel Club. President Obama also had expressed a preference for a shelter dog, but the family needed a hypoallergenic dog because of daughter Malia’s allergies. When the Obamas introduced Bo on April 11, they announced that they would make a donation to the Washington Humane Society.

A new poll in the exhibit asks visitors to vote for their favorite presidential pet of all time.

"First Dogs" is supported by a gift to the Newseum from PEDIGREE®, a brand of Mars, Inc.

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