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.

 

 

 

 

Millie’s Tales: President George Bush Senior’s Dog

“Millie was a joy to us in the White House,” said First Lady Barbara Bush of the family’s English Springer Spaniel. She helped to give George Bush Senior’s presidency a sense of family. In fact, Millie had her own family of puppies while living at the White House. A cage was set up in the East Room for tourists to see the puppies. President Bush took time out to play with the puppies, rolling around on the White House lawn with them.

Millie and her puppies also entertained the president’s guests. He took every delegation, foreign, congressional, etc. to see the puppies. Millie and one of her sons, Ranger, even welcomed Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

When Barbara Bush needed help raising money for her literacy foundation, Millie was glad to assist. In Millie’s Book, as the book jacket claimed, Millie dictated her White House experiences to Barbara. “I often sit in on the morning briefings,” Millie said. She also bragged about the opportunity to meet important people like journalist Diane Sawyer, preacher Billy Graham, and the President of France. Of course, there were times when even a famous dog wanted to be like other dogs. Millie admitted, “I sometimes want to go out and hunt for squirrels.” Millie’s Book made over one million dollars for the literacy foundation.

Even though she was a celebrity, Millie eventually had to give up her position as White House dog when her master lost to Bill Clinton. Still, she stood proudly by her family as they greeted the Clintons on the White House porch. Eventually Millie’s daughter, Spot, would return to the White House as the second George Bush’s presidential dog.

 

Laddie Boy: President Harding’s Presidential Pooch

Although President Warren Harding accomplished little while in office, he invented the now common presidential doggie photo op. Harding loved dogs and used them during his presidential campaign to demonstrate his connection to the average person. The Hardings’ Airedale Laddie Boy certainly knew how to steal the spotlight. His popularity with reporters was so great that they often quoted him in pretend interviews. For example, one newspaper included Laddie Boy’s hope that watchdogs would be given an eight-hour workday.

Laddie Boy was always included in White House activities, such as welcoming visitors. Harding even gave the dog a hand carved chair to sit in during cabinet meetings. Considering the financial problems and scandals his administration encountered, Harding must have felt comforted by Laddie Boy’s presence at official White House functions. On his birthday, other local dogs were invited to share Laddie Boy’s birthday cake made out of dog biscuits.

Despite his celebrity status, Laddie Boy also enjoyed some regular dog activities in his free time. For example, Harding’s fondness for practicing his golf swing on the White House Lawn was matched by Laddie Boy’s enthusiasm for retrieving the golf balls. Laddie Boy also regularly brought the morning paper to his master.

Unlike his master, Laddie Boy’s popularity never diminished. When Harding died, schoolchildren collected pennies that were melted down and molded into a likeness of the dog. Today visitors to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C can view Laddie Boy’s statue.