Pets in the White House have affected U.S. history, politics

Pets in the White House have affected U.S. history, politics

Pups prove popular when politician faces scandal or needs a few votes
Oct 01, 2008

First Pets: Dr. Ronnie Elmore's patriotic hobby has led to a large collection of First Pet memorabilia, including the photos he poses with here.
WASHINGTON — Not having an animal lined up to assume the duties of First Pet may not hurt Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama's campaign, but getting a pet could help.

Ronnie Elmore, DVM, associate dean for admissions and diversity programs at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, has made a hobby out of learning about First Pets and his biggest discovery has been the power of the presidential pooch.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for his fourth term, he gave a speech, which became known as the Fala Speech, a reference to his Scottish Terrier.

Republicans were making a stink about FDR's decision to send a Navy destroyer to pick up his dog, which he mistakenly had left on the Aleutian Islands.

Roosevelt said he expected ridicule of himself and his family, but Fala's "Scotch soul was furious."

The speech was a hit, and was credited with helping his re-election.

Richard Nixon had a similar experience when he was the vice presidential candidate on Dwight D. Eisenhower's ticket. Accused of hiding a secret slush fund, Nixon gave the televised Checkers Speech, named after his Cocker Spaniel.

In the speech, Nixon said no matter what Democrats said, he was going to keep his dog, which had been a gift for his daughters.

D.C. top dogs
The outpouring of support for Nixon after the speech was overwhelming. And even though he had been in danger of being kicked off the ticket, Mimi Eisenhower allegedly told Ike to keep him because he was "such a warm person," Elmore says.

More recently, when President Bill Clinton faced a scandal involving intern Monica Lewinski, a chocolate Lab named Buddy appeared, Elmore says.

"Presidential pets have actually changed presidential history," Elmore marvels. "And they have changed U.S. history."

But those changes have not always been for the better.

President Lyndon B. Johnson learned that the hard way when he was photographed picking up his two Beagle dogs, Him and Her, by the ears. The incident created a huge outcry from the public, according to Elmore.

Elmore became interested in the unusual topic after moving to Kansas 18 years ago. Trips to the nearby Eisenhower Center piqued his curiosity in the President's dogs and the subject soon took on a life of its own.

Now, everywhere he travels, Elmore looks for things relating to presidents and their pets and he has acquired quite a collection, including a wall of photographs and even one of 1,000 statues Warren G. Harding had made of his dog, which he gave to his supporters.

Elmore is a member of the American Political Items Collection group, but as far as he can tell, he is the only member with an interest in political pets.

But there is an entire museum, the Presidential Pet Museum in Williamsburg, Va., dedicated to the red, white and blue animals who have lived in the White House.

While Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain has numerous pets, he is rarely photographed with them.

"They both would benefit by having their pictures taken with animals," Elmore surmises. "People identify with people who are like them. It makes them a little more human, a little more like the rest of us."

The American Kennel Club and other groups have offered to help Obama with his pet dilemma, basically offering to give him a dog.

Obama has said if he wins the election, he promised to buy his daughters one.

Elmore recommends a Schnauzer or Scotty for Obama, because they are small, but says a Lab would be good, too, because they are gentle and his kids "could crawl around on him."

For McCain, now that he has Sarah Palin on his ticket, Elmore says hunting dogs would be a good choice.