Presidential Pets: Dogs in the Kennedy White House

President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie loved dogs, which meant that First Kids Caroline and John-John had several furry playmates in the White House.

The most famous Kennedy dog was Pushinka, whose name meant fluffy in Russian. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave the mixed breed dog to Caroline as a gift after the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Secret Service checked the dog for bugs to make sure the Soviets weren’t using it as a spy, Pushinka became part of the family. JFK Jr. remembered that he and Caroline taught Pushinka to go down the slide on the White House playground. “Sending the dog down that slide is probably my first memory,” he said.

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White House dog handler Traphes Bryant with Pushinka and puppies, July 1963

Pushinka struck up a romance with the Kennedy’s Welsh terrier, Charlie. In June 1963, Pushinka had puppies. Caroline and John-John named them Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker. JFK referred to the puppies as “pupniks” since Pushinka was the daughter of a dog who had been to space on the Russians’ Sputnik 2. When the puppies were two months old, the First Lady picked two children from the thousands that had written to the White House asking for one of the pups. That’s how Butterfly and Streaker got adopted. The other puppies were given to family friends.

The father of the puppies, Charlie, was “large and in charge.” He bossed the other dogs around and made sure he got first dibs at dinnertime.  When given the chance, he showed humans who was boss, too. If a visitor ignored him, Charlie peed on that person. Although he was not an official watchdog, he growled if someone got too close to JFK.

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First Lady Jackie Kennedy with children and dog Charlie, Dec. 25, 1962

 

Charlie loved to play fetch, but he got so obsessed with the game that the president got annoyed. Fortunately, Charlie and the president both enjoyed swimming and long walks.

Charlie may have been one of JFK’s favorite dogs, but the First Lady preferred a German shepherd named Clipper. A gift to the family from JFK’s father John Kennedy, Clipper velcroed himself to the First Lady’s side. He was the only Kennedy family dog to get formal obedience training. Caroline and John-John enjoyed tagging along with their mom to watch Clipper and other German shepherds at the training site.

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First Lady with Clipper, Jan. 15, 1963

 

Mrs. Kennedy valued her privacy and Clipper helped her with that, too. Sometimes the president and Mrs. Kennedy walked the dogs outside the White House grounds in the evenings so no one would recognize them. Mrs. Kennedy walked Clipper and the president usually took Charlie. The Secret Service car had to follow at a distance, but it relaxed both humans to have that little bit of freedom.

Note: this is not a complete list of the Kennedy presidential pets, but includes some of the most popular ones.

Presidential Pets: George W. Bush’s Dogs Spot, Barney, and Miss Beazley

President George W. Bush came into office with a dog who was already very familiar with the White House. Spot, or Spotty as family members called her, was the daughter of the first president Bush’s English springer spaniel Millie. Spot was named after Scott Fletcher, the shortstop on the Texas Rangers baseball team. She loved the outdoors and chased birds grasshoppers and anything else she could find at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Like many White House dogs she welcomed visitors to the Oval Office. President Bush said, “Spot understands the decorum of the Oval Office, so she gets to go in.”

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Spot aboard Marine One

In 2001 Spotty was no longer the Bush family’s only dog. Barney the Scottish terrier arrived shortly after the 2000 presidential election. Though he was more hyperactive than Spot, the dogs became fast friends. Barney lost his companion in 2004. Spot was euthanized at age 14 after having several strokes.

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Barney in Oval Office, 2005

During his master’s time in office, Barney became a media star. He had his own website and “Barney cam” showed videos from his perspective of White House visitors and staff. The public looked forward to these videos on YouTube during Christmas time. President Bush called First Dog Barney “the son I never had.” Barney loved to play ball on the White House lawn and his favorite activity at Camp David was chasing golf balls. Though he was happy-go-lucky with the family, he didn’t like all humans. As First Dog he bit a reporter and another White House visitor. In contrast, he did get along with Miss Beazley, a Scottish terrier puppy given to Laura Bush from her husband as a birthday gift in 2004.

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Laura Bush with Barney, cat India, and Miss Beazley, Dec. 2006

Miss Beazley was named after a character in the children’s book The Enormous Egg. Perhaps Barney liked her because she was actually Barney’s niece. Anyway the feeling was mutual and Miss Beazley was a great friend to Barney. After Barney’s death from cancer at age 12 Laura Bush said, “Miss Beazley really seems to be sad… She seems a little lost looking for Barney.” After her own fight with cancer, Miss Beazley died in May 2014. George W. Bush gave Miss Beazley credit for never holding a grudge against Barney even though he got so much of the nation’s attention.

 

 

 

 

 

Presidential Pets: Bo and Sunny Obama

President Obama promised his daughters they would get a puppy if he won the election in 2008. After his win, there was much speculation both at the White House and in the press about which dog the Obamas would get. Because of daughter Malia’s allergies the family looked for a non-shedding dog. They were torn between a Labradoodle and a Portuguese water dog. The late Senator Ted Kennedy lobbied for the Portuguese water dog who got the president’s vote. In April 2009, Kennedy and his wife gave the president a puppy that would soon become Bo Obama.

The pup was named Bo after the first lady’s father whose nickname was “Diddly.” The American Kennel Club states that the Portuguese water dog “has the ability to swim all day,” but Bo doesn’t particularly enjoy the water. In fact, he can’t swim! Fortunately swimming is not required to be a presidential pet.

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Bo Obama playing in the Cabinet Room, April 2009

Bo proved to have many admirable qualities, however. He became the star of various children’s books including one entitled Bo: America’s Commander in Leash. Like other first dogs before him, Bo oversaw meetings and greeted guests in the Oval Office. He helped Michelle Obama when reading to kids and usually managed to steal the show. For example, during a reading of The Night before Christmas at a children’s hospital, Bo jumped into Mrs. Obama’s lap. He even helped with the 2012 presidential campaign by starring in an ad. In the ad, voters were encouraged to “throw a bone to Bo.”

In August 2013, a female Portuguese water dog named Sunny joined Bo at the White House. It was easy enough for guests to tell the two dogs apart. Bo has some white fur on his front paws and chest and black fur everywhere else, while Sony’s coat is completely black. Both dogs became so popular they eventually had schedules like the president. Notable occasions that they attended included the annual Easter Egg Roll. They also cheered up wounded servicemen and hospitalized children.

Though they did many things together, the dogs had their differences. Bo had a job as a helper to the head groundskeeper Dale Haney at the White House. Mrs. Obama said, “he leaves every morning and he goes down with Dale and he’s with all the National Park Service guys. And you’ll see him and he is like walking around with them, and looking at the plants. I think he thinks he has a job because he takes it very seriously.” Although she was usually as good tempered as Bo, Sunny seemed disappointed that she and her family would have to leave the White House in 2017. In January, the dog bit a visitor when she bent down to pet Sunny.

Overall the two dogs represented their master well. President Obama did have to promise to “clean things up a bit” before leaving the White House because the dogs had “been tearing things up occasionally.”

Presidential Pets: Abraham Lincoln’s Dog Fido

Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido was the first presidential dog to be photographed. Lincoln had the photo taken in 1861 just before he left Springfield, Illinois for his presidential inauguration. He told his sons Tad and Willie that they could take the photo with them to Washington, but not the dog.

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Official Portrait of Fido, Abraham Lincoln’s Dog

During his time in Springfield Fido was a great companion to Lincoln. The yellow-and-brown mutt accompanied Lincoln on errands and often waited outside the barbershop for him. Unlike his master, however, Fido wasn’t meant for public life. After Lincoln’s presidential nomination, local politicians came to the house and tried to greet Fido, who retreated under the family sofa. Fido also was less than enthused about the fireworks and cannons going off when his master won the election.

Mary Lincoln was not a big fan of dogs and she was probably happy not to have to clean up after Fido anymore. Lincoln, however, loved dogs and made sure that Fido had a good home. Lincoln gave the dog to the Roll family who were friends and neighbors of the Lincolns and their children.

Before giving away his pet, Lincoln gave the Rolls strict instructions about Fido’s care. For example, Lincoln insisted that Fido never be punished for coming inside with muddy paws. He also wanted the dog to be allowed in the dining room where he could beg for table scraps. The Rolls were also given the Lincoln family sofa to make Fido feel more at home. It was his favorite place to sleep. Finally, the Rolls promised to give the dog back when the Lincolns returned to Springfield.

Fido was never reunited with his master, though he did watch the funeral procession in Springfield after Lincoln’s assassination. Several months later Fido ran away from the Roll’s home. John Roll wrote, The dog in a playful manner put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing. In his drunken rage the man thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog was assassinated like his illustrious master.” The Roll children buried Lincoln’s beloved dog in their yard.

 

Presidential Pets: Ronald Reagan’s Dogs Lucky and Rex

President Ronald Reagan didn’t immediately bring a dog with him to the White House. During his second term, however, Reagan got a Bouvier des Flanders puppy named Lucky. First Lady Nancy Reagan named the dog in honor of her mother, Edith Luckett (Lucky) Davis. Bouviers are high energy herding dogs that grow to be very large. As Nancy Reagan put it, Lucky grew from a black “ball of fluff” to “be the size of a pony.”

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Official Portrait of Lucky the Dog, 1985

The petite First Lady was quickly overwhelmed by Lucky’s size and strength. Hugh Sidney, a correspondent for Time Magazine, said that when the press saw Lucky and the First Lady on the White House lawn, “we would all wait for the lunge because the dog would drag Nancy along for a few feet as they raced to the helicopter.” Mrs. Reagan got no help from the president, who invariably laughed at Lucky’s antics.

To be fair, Lucky also did a good job of “walking” President Reagan when he was trying to have a conversation with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Neither leader seemed to mind, though.

Though Lucky was affectionate, she never adjusted to life in the White House. After a stint in obedience school, the Reagans sent Lucky to their ranch in California where she could roam more freely.

Despite having little luck with Lucky, the Reagans got another dog. This time they selected a smaller breed, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They named the dog Rex after retired White House usher Rex Scouten. Like Lucky, Rex pulled on his leash, but his small size made him easier to handle.

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The Reagans with Dog Rex at Christmas

The name Rex means king, and Rex lived up to his name. A colonial-style dog house with red velvet curtains and pictures of his owners on the walls was designed for him by Theo Hayes, great-great grandson of President Rutherford B. Hayes. After President Reagan’s second term, Rex went with the Reagans to their California ranch.

Lucky and Rex had long lives—ten and thirteen years respectively. They both were buried at the Reagan ranch.

Presidential Pets: Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever Liberty

President Gerald Ford arrived in the White House without a dog. The family had owned golden retrievers before, so daughter Susan Ford and White House photographer David Hume Kennerly decided to surprise the president with a puppy. After contacting a breeder of golden retrievers in Minneapolis, they soon realized that it would be tough to keep the puppy a secret.

The breeder wanted to make sure the dog had a good home and asked a lot of questions. For example, the breeder insisted on knowing where the puppy would live. Kennerly said that the couple “lives in a white house with a big yard and a fence around it.” The breeder also asked if the couple owned or rented their home. Kennerly said, “I guess you could say they live in public housing.”

Unimpressed, the breeder refused to ship the dog. Finally Kennerly and Susan said the dog was for the president and explained that they wanted it to be a surprise.

In his memoir A Time to Heal, President Ford wrote about the day he first met Liberty. “I was in the Oval Office…when Susan walked in. ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘if we ever get another dog, what kind are we going to get?’ ‘A female golden retriever about six months old,’ I said. At that moment, David entered with a copper-colored pup who raced around the Oval Office yelping excitedly. ‘Whose dog is that?’ I asked. ‘It’s yours.’ Susan and David laughed. ‘Her name was Streaker, but we’ve changed it to Liberty.’ Delighted, I grabbed the pup, put her on my lap, then got down on my hands and knees and played with her on the rug.”

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President Ford and Liberty in the Oval Office

Liberty spent much of her time in the Oval Office next to Ford’s desk. If visitors came in, she would check them out. After they met with her approval, she returned to her rug beside her owner.

Other presidents enjoyed the company of their pets, but President Ford often personally took care of Liberty. They went on long walks together. According to Betty Ford, the pair even got locked out of the White House together!

At three in the morning, Liberty licked the president’s face, indicating that she needed to go out. Ford took her on the south lawn, but when they came back the elevator was turned off. They tried the stairwell, but the door to the hall was locked. After much pounding by the president and a lot of barking from Liberty, the Secret Service finally let them in.

Liberty became a national celebrity when she gave birth to puppies. The public was so eager for pictures of the new mom that a rubber stamp with Liberty’s paw print was made. This way, Liberty could “autograph” photos of her and the puppies.

The Fords kept one of Liberty’s puppies, a blond one named Misty. Another named Jerry went to the Leader Dog School for the Blind. The others were given as gifts or bought by friends.

Even though President Ford only served one term, his fondness for Liberty increased the popularity of the golden retriever in America. To this day the breed remains a popular choice with dog lovers.

 

 

 

 

President Lyndon Johnson and his Dogs

When Lyndon Johnson became president, he brought two beagles named Him and Her to the White House. Both Him and Her attended official White House functions. Even though Him once left a puddle on a chair during a party, the president refused to make Him stay elsewhere while his master entertained. Both Him and Her had the run of the Oval Office. Johnson signed the law that created The Great Society–a set of programs that gave more rights to African Americans and poor people–in the presence of his dogs.

Johnson often combined press conferences with dog walks. Most of the time, these walks went well. The walks made good copy for reporters because the public loved seeing the president with his beagles. Johnson tried to get his dogs to do different tricks for the cameras. He stuffed his pockets with candy-coated doggy vitamins to get Him and Her to perform.

One act, however, made the American people and Johnson’s dogs howl. During a press conference, Johnson picked one of the beagles up by its ears. Animal rights groups complained that Johnson was mistreating the dogs. Suddenly Johnson and his dogs were front-page news. Other than that incident, however, Him and Her seemed to enjoy their time as presidential pups.

After Him and Her died, Johnson felt pretty lonely in that big house. Fortunately his daughter found a stray running along the highway. She stopped at a gas station to ask whom he belonged to, but no one knew. She decided to bring the little white dog to the White House.

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Lyndon Johnson Family on Christmas Eve 1968. Johnson is holding Yuki

 

Johnson loved the little mutt and named him Yuki. Johnson said that Yuki was “the friendliest, the smartest, and the most constant in his attentions of all the dogs I’ve known.” The president took Yuki with him everywhere. He and the dog travelled together on Air Force One. Yuki attended cabinet meetings, though he did so under the table. Unlike President Harding’s dog Laddie Boy, Yuki did not sit in his own chair for cabinet meetings.

One of Johnson’s favorite things to do with Yuki was to howl with him. Johnson claimed that Yuki “had a Texas accent.” Yuki and the president howled together in the presence of important visitors like the Chancellor of Germany, who was a bit shocked at the performance!

The president needed the support of his loyal dog as protests against the Vietnam War increased.

Yuki went back to Johnson’s Texas ranch after his master retired from the presidency. He was at Johnson’s side in 1973 when the former president died.