Will Rogers said, “I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons.” Yet, our best friends have been giving Presidents the unofficial assist for centuries. They soften, humanize and make politicians more likable. In some cases, they’ve even helped turn the tide for a candidate. In the words of comedian Dick Gregory, “Dogs are great assets to candidates, and the feeling seems to be engendered that if a dog loves the candidate, he can’t be all that bad.” Pups are cuddly, cute, pure and unconditional. So…dogs and politics? They actually named an official day for it! Join me for Dogs in Politics Day, and discover the fun and interesting stories about presidential pooches and their historic humans. Some have been stylish. Some have been authors. All have been loved.
Tricky Dick, Checkers & Why we celebrate Dogs in Politics Day
What do they all have in common? It goes back to September 23, 1952. On that day, a Senator Richard Nixon of California gave a televised and radio-broadcast address to refute charges he used some of an $18,000 campaign fund for personal use. At the time, he was on the presidential ticket with Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower, the iconic WWII Supreme Allied Commander. The duo was running against Illinois Democrat, Governor Adlai Stevenson.
Because Nixon was accused of taking campaign funds and diverting them for personal use, calls came pouring in for Ike to dump Nixon from the ticket. Never one to run from a fight, he gave a televised address instead, refuting the charge for 30 minutes on air.
What made this speech one to go down in history, is when he mentioned a particular donated item sent to his family as a personal gift, and said he had no intention of returning it:
“A man down in Texas heard Pat [Nixon’s wife] on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip, we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
“It was a little Cocker Spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl — Tricia, the six-year old — named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”
The “Checkers” speech had an estimated 60 million viewers and listeners, and the reaction was overwhelmingly favorable toward Nixon. It is also regarded as one of the greatest political speeches in U.S. history, and a milestone in terms of demonstrating the effectiveness of television. And, of dogs in politics.
Aided by the “Checkers” speech and the positive response it garnered, Nixon remained on the GOP ticket, and was vice president for two terms. The rest, of course, is history.
An interesting factoid…
We hear the name Fido as a generic reference to a male dog, but where did it come from? Fido has a Latin base meaning “I trust” or faithful one. And, a President actually came up with the name for his dog. Who was that? None other than Abraham Lincoln, one of our most beloved Presidents.
Here are some of those stand out pooches that were the Lassies for their Timmy’s (sitting Presidents, that is), helping to get them out of jams and build bridges.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt kicked off his successful 1944 U.S. presidential campaign by invoking a claim by his Republican opponents that he’d sent a destroyer to the Aleutian Islands to fetch his Scottish terrier, Fala. He exclaimed, “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 don’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them …. He has not been the same dog since.” Fala was a gorgeous Scottie and made the breed famous. He is the only dog to have a statue in a national monument, and it’s a fixture in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
♥ ♥ ♥
President George W. Bush had two stylish pups, while in office. Barney and Miss Beazley became the first Presidential dogs to have their own website!
Miss Beazley was given as a birthday present from President Bush to First Lady Laura Bush. She moved into the White House as a ten-week-old puppy on January 6, 2005, shortly before the beginning of President Bush’s second term in office. She was named after a character from Oliver Butterworth‘s 1956 children’s book, The Enormous Egg.
Miss Beazley, and the Bushes’ first Scottish Terrier, Barney, a half-brother of Miss Beazley’s father, were video stars, featured in the White House Christmas clip, A Very Beazley Christmas, for her first holiday in the White House.
Barney and Miss Beazley are honored with a bronze sculpture at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
♥ ♥ ♥
George W.’s father, President George H. W. Bush, had an even more famous dog. He often talked of he and wife, Barbara’s Springer Spaniel, Millie. Millie was so famous and stylishly smart, she wrote a book that reached the top spot on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list in 1992. It was called Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush, and in it, she describes a day in her life living with President and Barbara Bush at the White House, including attending morning briefings and afternoon meetings in the Oval Office, combined with short breaks for squirrel hunting. But, of course! What is it they say? All work and no play makes Millie a dull dog, right?
Millie was also famous for the prominent mention the president gave her during his bid for re-election. “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos,” Bush said, referring to his opponents, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. That dog had a sense of humor, to boot!
Did you know Millie was named for Mildred Caldwell Kerr, a longtime friend of the Bushes? Millie delivered a litter of puppies, and two – Ranger (often called Bush’s favorite dog) and President George W. Bush’s dog, Spot – were also kept as longtime pets.
Millie went on to be portrayed in several TV shows during the 1990s, including Murphy Brown, Wings and Who’s the Boss. She also made a cameo appearance in an episode of The Simpsons.
The 15-acre Millie Bush Bark Park, which opened in 2004 on the west side of Houston, is named after her.
♥ ♥ ♥
We’re all familiar with the very stylish Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny, who share the White House with President Obama and his family. Getting Bo for Malia and Sasha captivated the attention of the nation, and when Sunny entered the picture, we wanted to know how, why and all the rest.
We knew Buddy, President Bill Clinton’s Chocolate Lab and Socks, their tuxedo cat, while in the White House, but did you know Hill & Bill now share their home with toy poodle, Tally and Maisie? In 1998, Hillary also penned the book Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.
Donald Trump doesn’t have dogs, but if he is elected President, it might be time to consider getting one. You’d have to go back to President Chester A. Arthur in the 1880’s to find a President without a dog.
Besides being man’s best friend and a great wingman, we can now add ambassador to dogs in politics. Yes, they’re that good.
Do you have a favorite presidential dog?