Famous Presidential Pooches

If the pet-keeping habits of American presidents are any indication, owning a dog is as American as apple pie.

LBJ in a pool with his dog and grandson

White House Photo Office / Wikimedia Commons

If the pet-keeping habits of American presidents are any indication, owning a dog is as American as apple pie. In fact, forefathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson not only kept dogs but bred them as well (it breaks the tedium of running a developing nation, we suppose).

Many early presidential pets tended to err on the more agrarian side — horses, cows, roosters, donkeys, goats — while other presidents opted to keep decidedly more unusual animals — John Quincy Adam’s alligator that briefly lived in the East Room’s bathroom, Benjamin Harrison’s possums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, the veritable menageries belonging to Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt. But most commanders in chief have also kept pooches of various breeds during their presidencies. Not every president has kept a pet, canine, or otherwise, at the White House. The Presidential Pet Museum lists Franklin Pierce, Chester A. Arthur, and James K. Polk as three pet-less presidents. (And we don’t think that Andrew Johnson's feeding of the white mice that lived in his bedroom exactly qualifies him as a pet owner, but whatever.)

From Millie, George H.W. Bush’s book-writing springer spaniel to Him and Her, Lyndon B. Johnson's beloved pair of beagles (pictured at left), here’s a look at a handful of America’s most famous first dogs.

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Laddie Boy the Airdale terrier (Warren G. Harding)

National Photo Co. [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons.

Although the pet-keeping habits of scandal-plagued newspaper publisher-turned-president Warren G. Harding wouldn’t have made Marc Morrone weak in the knees in the same manner as his Dr. Doolittle-esque successor, Calvin Coolidge, Harding is regarded as owning the first White House dog to reach bona fide celebrity status. As noted by Smithsonian Magazine, Harding’s beloved Airdale terrier, Laddie Boy, was the first presidential pooch to receive regular press in the country’s newspapers (that the pooch attended cabinet meetings in his own custom-made chair and held faux press conferences probably had something to do with this). Remarks Tom Crouch, a Smithsonian Institute historian: "While no one remembers him today, Laddie Boy's contemporary fame puts Roosevelt's Fala, LBJ's beagles and Barney Bush in the shade. That dog got a huge amount of attention in the press. There have been famous dogs since, but never anything like this.” After Harding passed away while in office in 1923, a life-size statue of Laddie Boy the pooch outlived his owner by six years was created by Boston-based sculptress Bashka Paeff using more than 19,000 melted pennies donated by in-mourning newsboys. Harding’s predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, also owned an Airdale but was better known for his tobacco-loving pet ram named Old Ike.

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Rob Roy the white collie (Calvin Coolidge)


It makes sense that the famously taciturn Calvin Coolidge grew up on a farm in Vermont; America’s 30th president loved his animals. Among the presidential menagerie — some of the animals lived at the White House while others resided at zoos — were a donkey named Ebeneezer, a pygmy hippo named Billy, a wallaby, a bobcat, canaries and a pair of raccoons named Rebecca and Horace. In addition to collecting decidedly unconventional pets, Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge were avid dog lovers and owned many. Perhaps the most famous Coolidge canine was Rob Roy, a white collie immortalized in a portrait of the first lady that hangs in the White House China Room. Wrote Coolidge of Rob Roy in his autobiography: “He was a stately companion of great courage and fidelity. He loved to bark from the second-story windows and around the South Grounds. Nights he remained in my room and afternoons went with me to the office. His especial delight was to ride with me in the boats when I went fishing. So although I know he would bark for joy as the grim boatman ferried him across the dark waters of the Styx, yet his going left me lonely on the hither shore.”

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Fala the Scottish terrier (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Photo: National Archives and Records /National Archives and Records

Keeping up the Harding administration’s tradition of press-savvy, trick-performing terriers was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s faithful Scottie, Fala. Born as “Big Boy” in 1940, Fala moved into the White House at a very young age and rarely left his master’s side, accompanying the president and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on trips both domestic and abroad. And on the subjects of traveling and never leaving his master’s side, if there’s one thing that Fala is famous for – aside from the fact that he had his own press secretary to handle his fan mail – it’s for the incident when Republicans accused Roosevelt of accidentally leaving his faithful companion in the Aleutian Islands and spending millions to employ a Navy destroyer to go retrieve the stranded pooch. Roosevelt responded to the false accusations of dog abandonment and misuse of taxpayer dollars in his famous “Fala speech” in 1944: “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.” To this day, Fala remains at Roosevelt’s side: the dog is buried near FDR in the rose garden at the Springwood estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., and is remembered in statue form at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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Heidi the Weimaraner (Dwight D. Eisenhower)


Most modern presidents tend to play it safe when it comes to dog breeds, opting for something sturdy, reliable, dignified and not too yappy: Terriers, spaniels, hounds and the occasional collie (we’re still patiently waiting for a Chihuahua to take office). And then there was golf-loving, oil-painting 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower – Ike went the way of the “Grey Ghost” when gifted with a Weimaraner named Heidi from Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield. Wrote Eisenhower to Summerfield in a letter dated Jan. 27, 1958: “Heidi is definitely an asset to life in the White House. She cavorts on the South Lawn at a great rate, with such important projects as chasing squirrels and investigating what might be under bushes. She is beautiful and well-behaved (occasionally she tends toward stubbornness but is then immediately apologetic about it). And she is extremely affectionate and seemingly happy. I am constantly indebted to you both for giving her to me . . ." However, Heidi’s days romping around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. were reportedly limited as she had a bit of a problem minding her number ones when left indoors (Weimaraners are known to suffer from separation anxiety, but maybe she just disagreed with some of Ike’s policies) and was sent to live on Eisenhower’s farm in Gettysburg.

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Him and Her the beagles (Lyndon B. Johnson)


Considered by some to be the greatest dog lover to ever take the Oval Office (sorry, Coolidge), Lyndon B. Johnson was master to a variety of pooches during his six-year presidency including a white collie named Blanco, a beagle named Edgar (a gift from J. Edgar Hoover, natch) and a mutt named Yuki found by the 36th president’s daughter, Lucy Nuget, on Thanksgiving Day at a service station near the LBJ Ranch in Texas. However it was a pair of adorable, creatively named beagles, Him and Her, that were perhaps the most famous – or at least the most photographed – LBJ canines. Born in 1963, the pooches were further thrust into the spotlight when LBJ was photographed lifting Him by the ears during a public speech. The photograph made front page news and, of course, animal lovers and activists freaked out, reprimanding the president for his actions while others, including retired president Harry S. Truman, came to his defense: “What the hell are the critics complaining about; that's how you handle hounds,” said Truman. Sadly, Him and Her both perished from rather unnatural causes while living at the White House: Her choked and died after swallowing a rock and Him was hit by a car while in hot pursuit of a squirrel on the White House lawn.

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Vicki, Pasha, and King Timaho (Richard Nixon)

Ollie Atkins/Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to four-legged companions, Richard Nixon is best known for being the proud papa of Checkers, a black-and-white cocker spaniel. In 1952, Nixon, then a Republican vice presidential candidate and senator from California, gave his game-changing, FDR-inspired “Checkers Speech” in which he defended himself on broadcast television against accusations that he had misused campaign funds. Well, long story short, Checkers died before Nixon even became commander in chief in 1969, so the pooch never actually graduated to the ranks of official first dog. However, the Nixon family did own a trio of canines — Vicki, a poodle; Pasha, a Yorkshire terrier, and King Timaho, an Irish setter — during their abbreviated stay in the White House. According to the Nixon Presidential Library, only King Timaho personally belonged to Nixon; Pasha and Vicki were pets of his daughters, Tricia and Julie. Those three perfectly lovely pooches were sadly (and inaccurately) ignored in the underrated 1999 comedy “Dick” in which two bumbling high school students played by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst are appointed by Nixon as official White House dog-walkers and inadvertently become embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

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Rex the King Charles spaniel (Ronald Reagan)


While in office from 1981 to 1989, Ronald Reagan was papa to two beautiful canine companions. The first was Lucky, a Bouvier Des Flandres that gained notoriety for very publicly (in the presence of Margaret Thatcher none the less!) dragging her master across the White Lawn. After it was decided that Lucky was simply too spirited and too large to be kept at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., she was sent to live at Reagan’s vacation ranch outside of Santa Barbara. Lucky’s more manageably sized and well-mannered replacement, a handsome little devil of a King Charles spaniel named Rex, was bestowed to Nancy Reagan as a Christmas gift in 1985 (as a young pup, Rex belonged to William F. Buckley Jr). As official first dog, Rex’s responsibilities included helping to light the National Christmas Tree and hanging out in a lavish dog house built by the Washington Children’s Museum and designed by Theo Hayes, the great-great grandson of Rutherford B. Hayes. Rex is also famous for bravely undergoing a tonsillectomy and refusing to enter the supposedly haunted Lincoln Bedroom.

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Millie the springer spaniel (George H.W. Bush)

President Bush with Millie and puppies. Michael Sargent/Wikimedia Commons.

Although the Scottish terrier belonging to George H.W. Bush’s son may have had his own series of popular “Barney Cam” videos, Millie, the 43rd president’s springer spaniel, has bragging rights as being the first and only first pooch to make the leap into literature with “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush.” Writes the famous cartoon cat Garfield in a New York Times review of the 1990 tome: “Given that it was written by a dog, one must conclude that ‘Millie's Book' is a miracle, or at the very least, pretty darned impressive. Most of the dogs I know would rather chew on a book than write one. Oh, sure, Millie had help from the first lady, but Millie's wit, style and incisiveness are clearly stamped throughout.” The acclaimed authoress, who according to her master knew “more about foreign affairs” than two “bozos” named Bill Clinton and Al Gore, passed away in 1997 from pneumonia.

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Buddy the chocolate lab (Bill Clinton)

Wikimedia Commons.

Although many former presidents have been honest to dog canine lovers, it’s rumored that Buddy, Bill Clinton’s chocolate lab, was more or less a PR prop acquired in 1997 to boost the beleaguered prez’s public image and distract from the ongoing Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. According to a profile of presidential pet expert Ronnie Elmore, Buddy lived in the basement of the White House with his actual owner and was only brought out for occasional photo ops. Says Elmore: "Everyone loves chocolate labs, and how could you not like Buddy's buddy, Bill?” Whether or not Buddy was actually just a lovable distraction from the president’s unlovable encounters with a White House intern, one thing is for sure: Buddy and Socks, the Clinton’s cat, were not exactly simpatico. Buddy was killed in 2002 at the Clinton residence in Chappaqua, N.Y., after chasing a contractor working on the home into a busy road where he was struck by a car. Although the Clintons were not home at the time, Secret Service agents watching the home attempted to save Buddy, rushing him to an animal hospital where he was pronounced dead. Socks, who went to live with Clinton’s secretary Betty Currie after the president let office due in part to the fact that she and Buddy pretty much hated each other, outlived her nemesis by seven years. She passed away in 2009 from jaw cancer.

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Barney the Scottish terrier (George W. Bush)

Eric Draper/Wikimedia Commons.

Following in the pawprints of Fala, Barney W. Bush became the second Scottish terrier to fetch, sit, and roll over in a wartime White House. Although his master proved to be nowhere near as popular as Fala’s, nip-prone Barney established a sizable fan base of his own during his stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. thanks in part to his own page within the White House website and a series, 11 in total, of pooch propaganda films released during the Bush administration, including “Barney Reloaded” (2003), “Barney’s Holiday Extravaganza” (2006) and Barney Cam VI: Holiday in the National Parks.” Barney, who was later joined in the White House by his niece, Miss Beazley, comes from prestigious stock: His late mother, Coors, belonged to Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and Environmental Protection Agency director.

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Bo the Portuguese water dog (Barack Obama)

US Government Employee/Wikimedia Commons.

President Barack Obama’s restraint in the pet-keeping department — compared to, let’s say, Theodore Roosevelt who kept multiple dogs, cats, guinea pigs, a pony, a bear, a one-legged rooster and a garter snake named Emily Spinach — has only further elevated the celebrity of Bo, a Portuguese water dog given as a gift to the Obama family from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, because the handsome purebred pooch has no other White House critters to compete with for the spotlight. Although Obama initially expressed interest in adopting a shelter dog as the presidential pet, the first family ended up settling on a non-shedding “Portie” due in part to the fact that the somewhat rare breed is hypoallergenic (Malia Obama suffers from allergies) and are always dressed in party-appropriate formal wear. In addition to crashing Univision TV shoots on the White House lawn, Bo Obama enjoys occasionally dressing up as the Easter Bunny.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

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