All the Presidents’ Pooches

Grace Coolidge with Laddie Boy, an Airedale Terrier, and Rob Roy, a white Collie
Grace Coolidge with Laddie Boy, an Airedale Terrier, and Rob Roy, a white Collie Wikimedia Commons

"If you want a friend in Washington," Harry Truman once said, "get a dog." Indeed, from George Washington, who bred foxhounds (and who returned British general Howe's dog, a POW, under a flag of truce), to George Bush, whose spaniel Millie's book outsold his own autobiography, our harried chief executives have found friendship and solace in dogs. The story of these Presidential companions is told in a new book, First Dogs, by Roy Rowan and Brooke Janis, published this month by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. The cast of characters includes every breed from wolfhounds to beagles, Airedales to poodles, plus a generous helping of affectionate mutts.

Of course, there has been a downside — a spot of weewee on the White House carpet, the occasional nip at a visiting diplomat's trousers, the tendency of Jefferson's briards to dine on his sheep — but on the whole, dogs have burnished the image of the Presidency, suggesting that the incumbent, who holds such awesome power, is just regular folks at heart. It's impossible to think of FDR without thinking of his inseparable companion, Fala. Richard Nixon probably saved his Vice Presidential candidacy — and ultimately his ascendency to the highest office — with his impassioned speech about his wife's cloth coat and his cocker spaniel, Checkers. Lyndon Johnson got himself in trouble with animal lovers when he lifted his pet beagles, Him and Her, by the ears for photographers, but he was known as a dog fancier. His special friend was Yuki, a stray that daughter Luci found hanging around a Texas gas station. Johnson was apt to yowl duets with Yuki in the Oval Office, as he does above with Ambassador David K. E. Bruce, an appreciative audience. All in all, it's enough to make one wonder if Bill Clinton shouldn't change his Socks.

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