If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” – President Harry Truman
The first Presidential pet I can recall is Millie. I was very little and barely knew who the President of the United States was or that he was the leader of the free world. But, I certainly knew that adorable brown and white English Springer Spaniel. When Millie and First Lady Barbara Bush were on television, you could be certain I was paying attention.
Now politics have never really been my thing. I know the causes I believe in, the issues that are most important to me and follow some of the goings-on in Washington DC for work, but I’ve never been a political junkie.
I find that I’m much more into the lifestyles and cultural side of our nation’s capital. What makes our leaders and lawmakers human, and more than just talking heads spouting off about this or that on the all-day news cycle, seemingly disagreeing with each other all the time.
And pets, I believe, humanize those bigger than life people – celebrities and politicians. It’s something we all have in common.
I mean, what dog owner can’t relate to the image of President Barack Obama nearly being pulled off his feet while walking Bo, just after his arrival, on the White House lawn? Come on dog owners, whatever your political affiliation, you know what I’m talking about! That strong tug on the leash when your dog just has to get where he or she is going and only they know why.
There have been a lot of First Pets – many dogs and cats, some horses and a few exotics. In doing some Internet surfing to write this, I found that George Washington was the founder of the American Foxhound breed. Also, William McKinley was apparently the owner of a bird named Washington Post!
But some of the more popular political pets include: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier Fala, John F. Kennedy’s pony called Macaroni, Lyndon B. Johnson’s beagles Him and Her, Richard Nixon’s Cocker Spaniel Checkers and Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever Liberty.
And then there’s the modern White House pets that most of us remember, President George Bush’s Millie, President Bill Clinton’s cat Socks and dog Buddy, President George W. Bush’s Spot, Barney and Miss Beazley and the two Portuguese Water Dogs that occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue now, Bo and Sunny Obama.
In case you haven’t guessed, the arrival of Sunny a few weeks ago is what prompted this little First Pet examination.
So, what is it that makes the president’s pets so popular? Well, I don’t have all the answers. But like I said above, my best guess is that they humanize someone who holds so much power. When we see one of the most powerful people in the world show affection to their pet, we see that they are human – they love, they care, they find joy in the simple things in life, just like the rest of us.
But I’m not naïve either. Cute and fluffy animals are a good marketing tool, too. But I’d like to believe the animals that have called the White House home have meant much more to their owners than just votes or political maneuvering.
America’s, and to some extent the world’s, fascination with these furry creatures goes well beyond those two reasons though. These days, presidential pets have spawned viral videos and best sellers – “Millie’s Book,” by the way, outsold her owner’s autobiography (another little interesting tidbit I came across in my Internet surfing.) And who hasn’t watched Barney Bush’s videos and said, “Awwwww!”
There’s even a Presidential Pets Museum, these animals have been that important to our history. And it is now one of the places on my must-visit list!
So, to these presidential pets, just keep being your cute selves and we’ll keep watching you with fascination. You bring some much needed fun to an at times tense atmosphere!
Here are some other fun links I came across on Presidential Pets!