DC Dogs: A Look at Presidential Pets
By Wendy Wilson
You’ve probably heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous Scottish Terrier named Fala, Richard Nixon’s Cocker Spaniel called Checkers and, of course, Barack Obama’s Portuguese Water Dog named Bo — but have you heard of King Tut, Herbert Hoover’s Belgian Shepherd, or Laddie Boy, Warren Harding’s Airedale?
With the 2012 presidential election almost here, we thought it would be fun to go back in time and meet some lesser-known First Dogs of the United States and share their claims to fame.
Caswell Laddie Boy was an Airedale terrier kept by Warren Harding. The photogenic dog, reports White House Historical Association records, “was the perfect representation of Harding’s 1921 campaign slogan, ‘Return to Normalcy.’”
Once elected, Harding gave Laddie his own hand-carved cabinet chair where he sat during meetings. He greeted official delegations, appeared in photos and even hosted the 1923 White House Easer egg roll when the Hardings were away, according to the WHHA.
Laddie Boy became memorialized in a life-size sculpture made from more than 19,000 pennies donated by newsboys from the Roosevelt Newsboys’ Association, according to the Smithsonian Institute archives. The piece, completed by sculptress Bashka Paeff in 1927, is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
During his presidential tenure from 1929 to 1933, Herbert Hoover kept a variety of dogs — from terriers and shepherds to working and hunting breeds — but the dog that received the most attention was a Belgian Shepherd named King Tut.
WHHA records report that Hoover’s lack of charisma and warmth cooled the press’ attitude about him. But when one of Hoover’s advisors discovered a portrait of the president and King Tut that painted him as more amiable and circulated it among the press, the dog “fixed Hoover’s image problem … and also went on to assist the White House police force as a patrol dog.”
Born in 1974, Liberty the Golden Retriever joined the Ford family in the West Wing after being given to Gerald R. Ford as a gift by the president’s friend and official photographer David Hume Kennerly, according to WHHA records.
While she lived as a White House pet from 1974 to 1977, Liberty spent a great deal of time with President Ford in the Oval Office and even accompanied Betty, their daughter Susan, and him to Camp David. In 1975, Liberty gave birth to eight puppies — launching her popularity among the American public. The First Family found good homes for seven of her puppies, reports the WHHA, and they donated one to the Leader Dogs for the Blind to serve as a guide dog.
While Ronald Reagan was in the White House from 1981 to 1989, he and Nancy cared for a menagerie of critters ranging from horses to dogs to cows to goldfish, according to WHHA records. But their most popular pet was Rex, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
When Mrs. Reagan was away, the president often wrote in his diary: “Rex and I are lonesome,” “Rex and I are roommates again,” and “Upstairs and waiting for Nancy’s return and here she is. Me and the dog are very happy,” reports the WHHA. Rex passed away on Aug. 31, 1998 at the age of 14.
Not all the First Dogs were purebreds. Lyndon B. Johnson’s mongrel named Yuki captured the hearts of the American people, according to WHHA records. The pup was found as an abandoned stray at a Texas gas station by Johnson’s daughter Luci — but Yuki and the president became instant pals.
“The sessions of the vagabond dog and the president ‘singing’ together provide one of the most endearing images of a president and a pet,” reports the WHHA.
Though we don’t know yet who the next official First Pet will be, there’s no doubt that it’ll go down in history.
For a list of all Presidential pets, visit Presidential Pet Museum.
Photo Credits: 1, 2: Library of Congress; 3, White House Historical Association; 4, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library; 5, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library