Monday, November 10, 2008
Hail to the pup!
With two wars and a deepening recession, what is everyone talking about?
A dog. Specifically, the Obama girls' new puppy.
But fascination with presidential pooches is nothing new. The White House has been going to the dogs even before there was a White House.
George Washington, who built the Executive Mansion, took his two favorite canines, Truelove and Sweetlips, with him on his inspection trips to see how construction was progressing.
Abraham Lincoln loved his little yellow mutt, Fido, so much that when he left Springfield to assume the reins of power in Washington, he wrote explicit instructions for the two neighbor boys who were to take care of Fido until he returned (which he never did).
They had to promise never to leave Fido tied up in the back yard alone and never to scold him for wet or muddy or dusty paws. Fido was also to be allowed inside whenever he scratched on the door, and he was to be allowed in the dining room at dinnertime because he was used to getting tastes from everyone around the table.
One of Ulysses S. Grant's first acts after moving into the White House was to give his youngest son, Jesse, a dog. But it quickly died under suspicious circumstances. He gave Jesse another dog, and it died, too.
Finally, Grant solved the problem by announcing that if another dog died, the entire White House staff would be fired. Needless to say, the next Grant dog lived to a ripe old age.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Scottie, Fala, became the big issue in the 1944 campaign when the Republicans accused FDR of sending a destroyer to pick up the pooch, whom, they claimed, had been left behind in Alaska.
Roosevelt struck back in a now-famous speech: "These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on myself, or on my wife, or on my sons. Now they include my little dog, Fala. Well, I don't mind, and my wife doesn't mind, and my sons don't mind. But Fala - he does mind!" And the Republicans were swamped in a sea of laughter.
Today, a statue of Fala sits beside the statue of his master at the FDR Memorial in Washington. Fala's head has been rubbed to a mirror-like shine by all the tourists who pat it for good luck. And Fala mementos outsell both FDR's and Eleanor's at the Memorial gift shop.
Everyone remembers Richard Nixon's cocker spaniel, Checkers, who bailed his boss out of a bribery scandal when he ran for Vice President in 1952. Nixon was in danger of being dumped from the ticket until he went on TV and claimed the only gift he'd ever received was Checkers.
"The kids love the dog," he added, "and regardless of what they say, we're going to keep it!"
Who wants to argue with 50 million dog lovers? Nixon was kept on the ticket.
Lyndon Johnson raised howls of outrage when he was photographed lifting his beagles, Him and Her, by their ears. But his true love was a bedraggled little yellow terrier mix named Yuki, whom his daughter Luci found abandoned at a gas station outside El Paso.
LBJ and Yuki became inseparable. During the darkest days of the Vietnam War, he would unwind by closeting himself in the Oval Office with Yuki on his lap. The two of them would throw back their heads and howl in unison, while the Secret Service agents standing outside scratched their heads and wondered what in the world was going on in there.
JFK - actually, Caroline - had a Yorkie named Charlie. Gerald Ford had a golden retriever named Liberty. Ronald Reagan had a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Rex. And Bush 41's springer spaniel, Millie, made the best-seller lists with her autobiography (ghost written by First Lady Barbara Bush).
They all agreed with Harry Truman, who said, "If you want a friend in this town, get a dog."