Hail to the Pets! A Salute to Our Nation’s First Friends
Bo chases President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Being the leader of the free world isn’t always an easy job. So it’s not surprising that many of our nation’s presidents have chosen to keep a furry companion in the White House for some unconditional love when approval ratings go down.
While cynics might claim that these four-legged friends are only around to soften voters, a few presidential pets have captured both headlines and hearts. Here are some leaders whose pets are almost as memorable as their policies.
Lyndon B. Johnson: Him and Her — Our nation’s 36th president was often shown warmly walking his two beagles, Him and Her — but a May 1964 photograph of Johnson on the White House lawn picking Him up by the ears caused a widespread uproar among animal lovers. Although Johnson went on to be elected for another term later that year, some believe that his image was irreparably tainted by the scandal.
George H.W. Bush: Millie — The beloved Bush family dog, the English springer spaniel Millie, was not only a faithful companion during Bush’s entire administration, but also a published author! Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush provided readers with a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into a day in the life of a White House resident. Not content with her bestselling status, Millie went on to be portrayed in the television show Murphy Brown.
Richard Nixon: Checkers — Although the black-and-white cocker spaniel Checkers passed away before getting the chance to live in the White House, the dog played a crucial role in Nixon’s political career. In a September 1952 speech responding to accusations of improprieties relating to campaign gifts, Nixon appealed to the American people’s warmer sides by referencing the gift of his daughters’ puppy Checkers. After proclaiming that “the kids, like all kids, love the dog and… regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it,” Nixon enjoyed an overwhelming outpouring of support and weathered the scandal.
Ronald Reagan: Rex — Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Rex, lived the life of a pampered presidential pet during his tenure in office — attending many high-profile events and helping to light the 1985 National Christmas Tree. When the Reagans left Washington in January 1989, the White House staff presented Rex with a doghouse that had been hand-built by the Navy Seabees. The doghouse even featured a piece of the carpet from Aspen Lodge at Camp David, one of Rex’s favorite spots, so that Rex would feel right at home.
Barack Obama: Bo — The nation’s current First Dog, the Portuguese water dog Bo, technically belongs to First Daughters Malia and Sasha, who received the pup as a gift from the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his wife, Victoria. Although some animal rights activists criticized the family for accepting a purebred dog, the Humane Society of the United States thanked the Obamas for “taking in a second-chance dog” who had been surrendered by his original owner.
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