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.”
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.