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.

 

 

 

 

Presidential Pets: Socks, First Cat of the Clinton White House

When Chelsea Clinton finished a lesson at her piano teacher’s house in 1993, she had no idea that she would take home a kitty. Though Socks had been a stray, he was intent on finding a home. He and another cat had been hanging out in the teacher’s yard, and as Chelsea came out of the house, Socks jumped into her arms.

Socks settled in at the Clinton’s house. Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas at the time, and Socks had the run of the house and grounds. He could chase squirrels and other furry creatures to his heart’s content.

Socks’ life changed when the Clintons moved into the White House. Though he had the distinction of being the first cat to live in the White House since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his owners decided it was unsafe for him to roam the 18 acres of his new home. They knew how much Socks liked to hunt, and that he might squeeze through the iron fence. Socks could go outside, but he stayed on a long leash on the South Lawn.

Even though he couldn’t hunt much, being the president’s pet had some advantages. For example, he got to sit on President Clinton’s shoulders in the Oval Office. He also made many new friends among the staff. One of his favorite people to visit was the president’s secretary Betty Currie.

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Official Portrait of Socks the Cat, 1993

 

As First Cat, Socks had certain duties to perform. He often accompanied Hilary Clinton on visits to hospitals and nursing homes. Socks seemed to enjoy the attention he got from kids and senior citizens. During these visits, he sat on Hillary’s lap and purred away. He also knew how to make an entrance. When he went anywhere, Socks travelled in his own carrying case with the presidential seal on it.

Socks became the first presidential pet to have his own webpage. An animated version of Socks guided children through the White House website. He also got a lot of fan mail from kids. The Clintons made sure that Socks sent a card back to his fans with a paw print.

In 1997, the Clintons got a Labrador retriever named Buddy. Everyone was thrilled–except for Socks. Hilary Clinton said that Socks “despised Buddy from first sight, instantly and forever.” Socks enjoyed being the only furry member of the family, and couldn’t stand having to share the spotlight with a boisterous dog.

To be fair, the dislike seemed mutual. As Hilary Clinton said, “if they were left together, Socks would be found hissing, fluffed up and with his back arched, while Buddy tried to chase him under the sofa.”

Bill Clinton’s second term ended in 2002, and the family decided it would be best to separate Socks and Buddy. Socks left with his old friend Betty Currie for her Maryland home. Even though he was no longer First Cat, Socks still made appearances with Betty for charities.

Socks died in 2009 at the age of twenty. Some of his ashes were scattered at the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas. A plaque near the mansion’s back porch reads: “Socks. 1991-2009. First Cat of Arkansas 1991-1993. First Cat of the U.S. 1993-2001.”

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.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his Dogs

During President McKinley’s time in office, the White House was pretty quiet. He and his wife had no children and only two pets, a parrot and a cat. When Theodore Roosevelt came to the White House, he brought a zoo with him. Snakes, a coyote, and a zebra were among the Roosevelt’s many animals. However, dogs were the family’s most cherished pets.

The Roosevelt dogs ranged in size from Rollo, the enormous St. Bernard, to Manchu, a tiny Pekingese given to the president’s daughter by the Chinese Dowager Empress.

Rollo’s size did not stop him from being a loving friend to the kids. As one newspaper noted, “No doubt visitors to the White House or Sagamore Hill [Roosevelt’s home in Long Island, New York] were often startled to see the Roosevelt children racing across the lawn, pursued by the bounding Rollo, who looked like some huge beast, ready to destroy them. But Rollo was a children’s dog, and he protected the president’s children as efficiently as the Secret Service men.”

Most of Teddy Roosevelt’s dogs were not quite as large as Rollo. Roosevelt’s son Kermit had a Manchester terrier named Jack. Jack would have enjoyed his time at the White House much more if the cat hadn’t tormented him. The cat thought jumping on Jack was great fun.

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Jack, the Roosevelt family dog at the White House, 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.

 

Though he never made friends with the cat, the rest of the family adored Jack. The president described Jack as “absolutely a member of the family.” He thought Jack was a gentleman, even though Jack sometimes chewed on the president’s books.

When Jack died, he was buried behind the White House. Roosevelt’s wife Edith refused to leave Jack there after her husband’s second term as president. She worried that Jack would be “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Jack’s little coffin was brought to the family home in Long Island, New York.

Roosevelt’s son Archie loved a dog named Skip. Skip may have been a rat terrier or a mutt. Teddy Roosevelt found the dog while he was on a bear hunt, and he probably liked Skip best. Roosevelt took pride in Skip’s courage. The dog stood his ground when facing a bear. Similarly, the president stood up to members of Congress.

President Roosevelt often took Skip on his hunting trips. When the dog’s short legs got tired, Roosevelt scooped him up and let Skip ride on his horse. On a typical evening, Skip raced down the halls of the White House with Archie. Once the kids fell asleep, Skip would find the president, who was usually reading. Skip climbed up on his master’s lap and snoozed. Skip died the year before the Roosevelt’s left the White House.

“We Like Ike”: The Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower already had his famous nickname while growing up in Kanas. “Little Ike” also had such a temper that he once beat his fists against a tree until he started bleeding. His mother bandaged up his hands and tried to teach him to control his temper. Ike took the lesson to heart. Throughout his life Ike would reign in his emotions because he wanted people to like him.

He did not, however, share his mother’s pacifist views. The only time Ike remembered making his mother cry was when he left for West Point. After World War II, General Eisenhower returned home as a hero. Ike’s popularity was so great that both political parties wanted him to be their candidate for president. Ike didn’t want to declare his politics right away. By 1952, Eisenhower felt disenchanted with the policies of President Truman and agreed to run as a Republican.

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Official Portrait of Dwight Eisenhower

Unlike other presidential candidates, Eisenhower was not an intellectual. The only books he enjoyed were western novels. Instead of great speeches, Eisenhower preferred to use sayings such as “Everybody ought to be happy every day. Play hard, have fun doing it, and despise wickedness.” A war-weary public found his simple style appealing.

Eisenhower won the election by promising to end the Korean war. He even vowed to go there himself. Though he did end the fighting, he did so by stepping up aerial bombardment of North Korea and threatening to use the atomic bomb. Whether he would have used the bomb is questionable, but Eisenhower’s tough talk led to a peace agreement. From that point on Eisenhower liked to say he was “waging peace” by keeping America out of foreign wars.

The supposedly peace loving president allowed America to stockpile nuclear weapons, however. He also secretly authorized spying on Russian nuclear missile sites. Meanwhile, he invited Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to a summit that would have limited nuclear testing. During the summit, an American spy plane was shot down by the Soviets. Eisenhower had to admit that he knew about the spy mission. An angry Khrushchev left the peace summit. No agreement on nuclear testing was reached.

Eisenhower’s administration has been criticized for failing to respond to domestic issues, especially civil rights. During his presidency the Supreme Court decided that public schools should be desegregated. Eisenhower didn’t believe that a law would change the hearts of Southern whites. When nine African American students tried to integrate a white high school in Little Rock Arkansas, a white mob threatened the students’ safety. Despite his disagreement with the Supreme Court, Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to protect the students.

Although Eisenhower believed in saving money, he also believed in many of the FDR’s programs. Eisenhower expanded the number of people eligible for Social Security and left labor laws in place. He also added a project of his own. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 pledged federal funds would be used to build interstate highways. The highways insured that the automobile became the primary means of travel for Americans instead of trains.

 

“Give-’em-hell-Harry” The Presidency of Harry Truman

Future president Harry Truman had a difficult childhood. A kid wearing glasses was a rare thing in the farm town of Independence, Missouri, and his schoolmates teased him. Since he was not very tall, they nicknamed him “little four eyes.”

Young Harry Truman also had different goals than most other children. He loved music and hoped to become a concert pianist. As a result of his father’s bad investments Truman could no longer receive piano lessons or even apply to college. Although he hated it, he worked the family farm until his father died. Truman then tried his hand at various business ventures, all of which failed.

Despite his poor eyesight and the fact that he was past the draft age, Harry managed to serve as a combat artillery captain in World War I. He discovered his ability to lead other people and gained the respect of his men. The experience boosted his confidence. He returned to Missouri as a war hero and married his sweetheart Bess Wallace.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Harry Truman

Truman needed to support his family and had to find work. After another business failure, he decided to try politics. It helped that he had kept in touch with the other veterans he served with during World War I. With the help of his friends and Democratic Party boss Tom Pendergast, Harry got elected first as a judge and later to other county offices. Despite his association with Pendergast, who had criminal ties, Harry became known for his honesty and his desire to help the common man during the Great Depression.

In 1934 Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate. He served as chairman of a committee that uncovered the Defense Department’s wasteful spending. The public found Truman’s honesty and even his swearing so refreshing that they nicknamed him “Give-’em-hell-Harry.”

During the 1944 presidential election Truman was selected as President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president. Only a few months after he became vice-president, Roosevelt died and Truman had to take over. At the time he thought, “There must be a million other men more qualified for the presidential task. But the work was mine to do, and I had to do it.”

Chief among Truman’s tasks was to bring World War II to a successful conclusion. Even after Germany surrendered, the fighting with Japan dragged on. Truman believed that if the war in the Pacific continued, up to 100,000 American soldiers could die. He decided that if Japan refused to surrender, he would use the new atomic bomb.

On July 26, 1945, Truman warned Japan that it would be destroyed if it continued to fight. The Japanese Emperor still would not give up. In August, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs, one on the town of Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. Finally, the Japanese Emperor surrendered and the war was over.

Truman received criticism in later years for using the atomic bombs, which mostly killed Japanese civilians. He never regretted his decision, however. As Truman put it “The greatest part of the president’s job is to make decisions…he can’t pass the buck to anybody.”

After World War II Truman turned his attention to stopping the spread of communism. The start of a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union worried voters, and Truman’s popularity suffered. In 1948 he was probably the only person who thought he would be re-elected president. He took the campaign seriously and made hundreds of speeches throughout the country on his “Whistle-stop campaign” tour. Truman’s confidence proved to be prophetic when he won.

Truman’s second term was dominated by his decision to support South Korea when it was invaded by communist North Korea. He never asked Congress for a declaration of war because he feared the public would be reminded of World War II. As the war went on, Truman’s popularity took a nosedive.

Even though he had a poor approval rating, the public was still shocked when he announced that he didn’t plan to run for president again. He took delight in returning to Missouri and becoming “Mr. Citizen.” Truman lived to see much of his reputation restored. He became known not only for overseeing the end of World War II but also for desegregating the military and banning racial discrimination in the federal government.

 

Before the Great Depression: President Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover was born in Iowa, which made him the first president to be born west of the Mississippi River. Though he was orphaned at age nine, he managed to get a geology degree from Stanford University. When he was evaluating mines in Australia, he sent a telegram with a marriage proposal to his future wife and Stanford graduate Lou. Lou had always wanted to marry someone who appreciated the outdoors, and Hoover did. Even as president he took time to go fishing.

During World War I, Hoover headed a relief effort for starving Belgian citizens. In Europe he was known as “the food czar.” Back in the states he also organized a relief effort after a massive flood along the Mississippi River. As secretary of commerce under Harding and Coolidge, he opened up new markets for business and helped standardize products like car tires.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Herbert Hoover

Hoover was so popular that he easily won the presidential election in 1928. Even he seemed to realize the possible dangers of people viewing him as “some kind of superman”, however. He worried that some catastrophe would occur during his time in office. When the stock market crashed and left many Americans unemployed and hungry, Hoover had the catastrophe he feared.

One of Hoover’s errors was his belief that local governments and volunteerism could stop the Great Depression. He opposed direct federal government aid for most of his presidency, though he did authorize loans for state and federal government projects in order to create jobs. Hoover also made some poorly thought out statements to the press that gave people the impression that the multimillionaire didn’t care about them.

To be fair, the depression continued for eight more years even with Franklin Roosevelt’s federal aid. Despite mistakes, Hoover’s administration introduced some progressive ideas. For example, he invited prominent black leaders to the White House, something his predecessors avoided. He also supported tax reductions for the poor.

Though he knew he would not win another term, Hoover’s love for America never wavered. After all, he had signed a law making The Star-Spangled Banner America’s national anthem.

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge had an appropriate birthday for a future president; he was born on the Fourth of July. As the son of a Vermont general store owner, he would shy away from strangers who came to his father’s shop. He remained distant and uncomfortable in social gatherings for the rest of his life.

Coolidge was visiting his father when he was awakened by the news of President Harding’s death. As Harding’s vice-president, he now had to lead the country. Since his father was a notary public, he performed the oath of office for his son.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Calvin Coolidge

Once president, Coolidge promoted the interests of big business. He believed “the more a man makes, the more he can pay his workmen.” Businesses were especially productive during the Coolidge administration. For the first time the middle class could afford to buy items like automobiles and washing machines.

His decisions on social issues were primarily negative; he upheld a strict immigration policy and believed the government should not help the poor. Yet after the scandals of the Harding administration, people admired his honesty. They also liked the fact that the economy was doing well.

Coolidge had many personal flaws. He was reluctant to speak at or even attend social gatherings, and when he did speak, what he said was often tactless. Fortunately for guests, his flaws were offset by the graciousness of his wife.

Though “Silent Cal” seemed like a cold fish to the outside world, Coolidge loved his family. He was devastated by his son Calvin’s death. He said “If I had not been President he would not have raised a blister on his toe…playing lawn tennis on the South grounds…which resulted in blood poisoning…When he went, the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.”

Coolidge’s economic policies while in office would later inspire the administration of Ronald Reagan.

The Presidency of Warren Harding

Although his presidency was marred by scandal after his death, Warren Harding was a popular president in his day. Even as a young boy Harding avoided conflict in order to please his peers. That habit caught up with him when he became president.

Before he got into politics Harding was a successful businessman who bought a bankrupt newspaper and made it profitable. His wife Florence served as his business partner. He called her “The Duchess” and feared rather than loved her. Their complex relationship pushed him into politics. His new profession allowed him to be away for long periods. It also enabled him to have affairs with other women. He had a magnetic personality and a great speaking voice.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Warren Harding

During the Republican national convention in 1920, the party could not decide on a candidate. Party leaders looked for a compromise, so they asked Harding if there was any reason they shouldn’t nominate him. Though he didn’t actually want to be president, Harding told them there was nothing in his past that would prevent him from running. In the first presidential election in which women could vote, Harding won.

Harding promised voters that his presidency would mark a return to “normalcy,” or to the days before World War I. Fortunately the country didn’t face any major crisis during his presidency.

Unlike President Wilson who always thought his opinion was the right one, Harding was indecisive. After listening to both sides of an issue he often thought that each side was just as right as the other. Even Harding admitted that he was in over his head as president. Later historians would agree with him when he remarked, “I never should have been here.” Still, Harding remained a popular president until he died of food poisoning during his third year in office.

After his death rumors about his private life and corruption in his cabinet came out. Harding had always been a womanizer, and one woman claimed he had fathered an illegitimate son. His desire to be popular had caused him to cover up rather than publicize the scandals that plagued his administration.

An illegal oil-rigging scheme led to the eventual arrest of his former secretary of the interior. It was the first time a cabinet member had been convicted of a crime. Ironically, the president who wanted to be loved by everyone became one of the country’s least respected presidents.