In the wake of Presidents Day, I can't stop thinking about all the dog hair that's gracefully wafted through the Oval Office.
Dogs have been keeping our presidents young for as long as we've been electing them. While George Washington never lived in the White House, he did live with dogs. According to the official Mount Vernon site (mountvernon.org), America's first president "kept almost every group of dog recognized today by the American Kennel Club." Calling the estate home: greyhounds, Newfoundlands, Briards, spaniels, terriers, toys, French hounds Tipsy, Mopsey, Truelove and Ragman, coonhounds Drunkard, Taster, Tipler and Tipsy, a Dalmatian named Madame Moose, and a Staghound who answered to Sweetlips.
John and Abigail Adams were the first president and first lady to live in the White House, and their mixed-breeds Juno and Satan were the first dogs to officially mark the White House lawn.
There have been many since — Calvin and Grace Coolidge alone brought far too many animals to the White House to list. While many of these presidential pups happily romped under the radar, some of them reached a level of fame — or infamy — equal to the presidents who adored them. Scottish terrier Barney Bush made headlines when he bit a member of the White House press corps. Bo and Sunny Obama, both Portuguese water dogs, made a brief splash, as well. But no presidential pooch has known enduring fame like Laddie Boy Harding.
Warren Harding once wrote: "Whether the Creator planned it so, or environment and human companionship have made it so, men may learn richly through the love and fidelity of a brave and devoted dog." That dog, for him, was an Airedale terrier named Laddie Boy. Arriving at the White House in time to interrupt Harding's first cabinet meeting, Laddie Boy became the 29th president's constant companion — tagging along for golf outings, sitting in on cabinet meetings perched atop his very own chair, and attending first lady Florence Harding's many fundraising events. In no time, Laddie Boy was a star, generating headlines, photo ops and tiny bronze statuettes in his likeness faster than his presidential counterpart generated scandals. Harding didn't go down in history as the best president — or husband — but he just might be the most earnest dog lover ever to play fetch in the West Wing.
This brings us — thank you, Oscar Wilde — to the political importance of being earnest. If you're going to have a dog in the White House, you'd better love him like Harding, because a president's relationship with his dog could make or break his relationship with voters.
When FDR was running for his fourth term, he was taking a beating for spending taxpayer money to retrieve his Scottish terrier, Fala, from the Aleutian Islands. Roosevelt replied, "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." What became known as the Fala speech helped secure Roosevelt's reelection. And in 1952, Richard Nixon wisely followed suit with his Checkers speech. In danger of getting bumped from the vice-president slot on the ticket due to an alleged slush fund, Nixon denied the fund existed and said, "There is one thing that I did get as a gift that I'm not going to give back." He was referring to a black-and-white cocker spaniel named Checkers who was a gift to his daughters. After that, support for Nixon only went up.
On the dark side of the coin, LBJ sparked outrage when he lifted his beagles, Him and Her, by their ears for the cameras. And Mitt Romney took a hit in the polls when it was revealed he drove 12 hours with his dog, Seamus, strapped to the top of the car in a carrier. Voters were not appeased by the fact that the carrier "had a windshield."
Ultimately, Calvin Coolidge called it: "Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House." To that, I'd add only: "or woman."
Jessica Burtch was the longtime editor and writer for Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis. She is an even longer-time lover of dogs and critters in general. Follow her @sicaleigh. Email her at [email protected] Read more at creators.com.