Pet column: Presidential pet keepers |

Pet column: Presidential pet keepers

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Sept. 23 is Dogs in Politics day. It is also referred to as “Checkers Day” recognizing the 1952 speech then vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon made in reply to accusations that he spent campaign contributions for personal use and special favors. Nixon said he did not, but his daughters did receive the gift of a dog which he emphatically stated they would not give up, the cocker spaniel named “Checkers.” Nixon’s public self defense was considered a clever comeback, often referred to as “The Checkers Speech” and Sept. 23 became Dogs in Politics Day. Pets in the White House range from alligators to zebras. Many ended up in zoos because they were less-than-cuddly exotic gifts from foreign dignitaries. However, pets continue to play a supporting and sometimes pivotal role for the first family and the nation.

According the Huffington Post’s 68 percent of our presidents have owned dogs, 30 percent horses, 30 percent birds and 20 percent have had cats. It’s estimated that only 9 percent of presidential households did not keep pets. These are some of the most notable pets and pet keepers:

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Harry S. Truman

Bill Clinton: Socks the cat and Buddy the dog. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton compiled a book entitled “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy” including letters from young people from all over the world who wrote to the Clinton family pets.

George Herbert Walker Bush: Dogs Millie and Ranger. Millie wrote “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush,” which is a dog’s-eye view of the White House during the Bush Administration.

John Kennedy: Macaroni — the pony received letters from children all over the world.

Calvin Coolidge kept the equivalent of a private zoo. Billy the pygmy hippo was a gift the president kept and then donated to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park because pygmy hippos were severely endangered at the time. Billy fathered 23 baby hippos, making almost every hippo in U.S. zoos today traceable to his genes.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Fala the Scottish Terrier was present in 1941 when Winston Churchill and Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter aboard the USS Augusta. Fala also was he subject of the first presidential pet biography. He was buried alongside FDR and is the only presidential pet to be memorialized in statue.

Warren G. Harding: Laddie Boy the Airedale had his own seat at Cabinet meetings and gave a 1921 “interview” with The Washington Post in which he talked about Prohibition and shortening the workday for guard dogs.

President Teddy Roosevelt: In 1908 the Washington Evening Star observed, “There is no home in Washington so full of pets of high and low degree as is the White House, and those pets not only occupy the attention of the children, but the President is himself their good friend, and has a personal interest in every one of them.”

John Adams: Satan the dog, and an alligator. The Marquis de Lafayette gifted the alligator and the East Room bathroom tub became its home. As a practical joke, dignitaries were directed there when asking for the restroom.

Abraham Lincoln: Ten-year-old Tad Lincoln befriended and named Jack, a turkey sent to the White House for a holiday feast. When Tad realized it was time to prepare the turkey for dinner he pleaded with his father to pardon the bird from the “executioner.” This is the basis for the turkey pardoning at Thanksgiving.

In 2002, First Lady Laura Bush celebrated the importance of pets to family life at the White House with the holiday decorations theme, All Creatures Great and Small. The display honored “the endearing role of all the dogs, cats, birds, horses, sheep, and even alligators and raccoons in White House history.”

— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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