First Dogs: A Look at Presidential Pets

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Po Obama currently lives in the White House.With the presidential race in full swing and November quickly approaching, the White House is on a lot of Americans’ minds. Regardless of who takes office for the next term, one thing will remain constant; dogs will continue to be a part of the White House and a part of politics. The current First Dog is Bo (pictured here), a Portuguese Water Dog owned by the Obamas. And who can forget Gov. Romney’s family dog, Seamus, who rode on the roof of their car during vacations? Historically, presidential pets have had a place in the White House, and have even been thought to influence voters.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for re-election in 1944, he had been criticized for misusing tax payers’ money following an incident where he sent a ship back from a family vacation to collect his dog, Fala. He is quoted as saying, “You can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog. He’s Scotch and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious.”1 This speech was credited for turning the election in Roosevelt’s favor!

They way presidents have treated their pets has historically been a topic for political discussion and has often been a reflection of each presidents’ image. Presidential hopefuls have long used pets in a political way, and their treatment of animals has influenced their images. President Nixon had been called a “warm person” following his gift of a Cocker Spaniel dog named Checkers to his daughters. And then-presidential hopeful Herbert Hoover acquired a German Shepherd dog that he featured throughout his campaign as well. Mitt Romney’s incident with his dog Seamus on the roof of his car generated heat for the presidential hopeful in the early part of his campaign. Former President Lyndon Johnson’s image may have been hurt by his treatment of his Beagles, as a photo surfaced of him holding one of them by the ears. Although animal advocates criticized him for this and it influenced his image, the scandal ultimately didn’t hurt his presidency.2

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Theodore Roosevelt was undoubtedly one of the most animal loving presidents in US history, owning many pets, including seven dogs, two cats named Tom Quartz and Slippers, a garter snake named Emily Spinach and Guinea pigs named Admiral Dewey and Fighting Bob Evans! Calvin Coolidge was another presidential animal lover, whose brood included 12 dogs, raccoons, a donkey named Ebeneezer, a plethora of exotic animals including a wallaby, black bear, a bob cat and lion cubs named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.

The most common breeds seen in the white house seem to be the hound (George Washington is rumored to have owned up to 18 hound dogs, possibly Fox Hounds), Spaniels (George H.W. Bush had two Spaniels; “Millie” even wrote a book!), Collies (Calvin Coolidge had three named Rob Roy, Ruby Rough and Bessie), and the most popular breed of all is the Scottish Terrier. Four Scottish Terriers have called the White House home in the past 80 years. (George W. Bush had two named Miss Beazley and Barney).

While politics change and presidents come and go, one thing seems to be consistent and bipartisan: the White House continues to welcome furry four-legged members of presidents’ families, and the public continues to take interest in the cats and dogs that hold the First Pet title.

1Presidential Pets. Wikipedia. 10/15/12.
2Presidential Pets. Wikipedia. 10/15/12.

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