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.”

More Abraham Lincoln Pets and the First Presidential Turkey Pardon

Despite the fact that they left their dog Fido behind in Springfield, the Lincolns had other pets in the White House. Tad and Willie had two goats named Nanny and Nanko, both of whom had the run of the White House. The goats drove the staff crazy by chewing almost everything in sight and eating the flower bulbs in the garden. In addition, the Lincoln boys would hitch the goats to either chairs or carts and have the goats pull them around. On one occasion, Tad scared White House visitors by driving one goat-pulled chair through the East Room while shouting, “Get out the way!”

Lincoln told Elizabeth Keckley, his wife’s seamstress, “I believe they are the kindest and best goats in the world.” According to Keckley, Lincoln and the boys would play with the goats in the yard “and when he called them they would come bounding to his side.” The White House staff was so frustrated with Nanny, however, that she was taken to the Soldiers Home. Unfortunately, she also chewed up the garden there and was sent back to the White House. Nanny, probably confused by the move, disappeared one day. Lincoln reported the loss to Tad who was on a trip with Mrs. Lincoln. “Poor Nanny goat is lost,” he wrote. By the next spring, Nanny was either found or replaced by another goat. Lincoln sent his wife a telegram saying “Tell Tad the goats and father are very well– especially the goats.”

If goats made for unusual White House pets, Tad managed to find yet another exotic friend. In 1863 the Lincolns were sent a live turkey. It was to be eaten at Christmas dinner. Tad became attached to the turkey and named him Jack. When Tad found out his new friend was going to be cooked for Christmas dinner, he interrupted Lincoln during a cabinet meeting to plead for the bird’s life. Lincoln stopped the meeting and wrote an “order of reprieve” for the turkey. Jack continued to live at the White House.

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Lincoln and his Cabinet. William Seward, who gave Lincoln kittens, is seated in front of the desk.

The tradition of presidents pardoning turkeys was thus started by Lincoln even though his turkey was for Christmas dinner. The presidential turkey pardon did not become an annual tradition until years later. John F. Kennedy was the first modern president to let a Thanksgiving turkey go.

Lincoln himself seem to derive the most comfort from the company of cats. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Lincoln might’ve answered cats.  Lincoln received two kittens as a gift from Secretary of State William Seward. He named them Tabby and Dixie. He reportedly spent quite a few hours of his time talking to them. At one point he exclaimed that they “were smarter than my whole cabinet.” During one White House dinner, Lincoln had Tabby seated next to him. This embarrassed Mrs. Lincoln but did not seem to trouble her husband.

Lincoln was also fond of stray cats, but he didn’t bring them home too often because Mary didn’t appreciate it. While visiting Gen. Ulysses S Grant at army headquarters in 1865, Lincoln spotted three stray kittens. He scooped them up and petted them. Before he left he made sure that someone would look after them. Grant aid Horace Porter stated that it was a “curious site at army headquarters upon the eve of a great military crisis” to watch the president “tenderly caressing three stray kittens. It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition, and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.”