First Dogs: The White House has long been home to animals of all sorts. Mockingbirds, hamsters, and even cattle have all called the White House home. Only a few Presidents have not had pets while serving in the White House, and others turned the home into a veritable zoo. Some have had bears, hamsters, goats, lions, tigers, and one, John Adams, actually had an alligator. With the exception of perhaps horses, dogs have by far been the most popular. In fact, there may have been more dogs in the White House as residents than humans.
Play Checkers?: Their influence on politics has been undeniable, and many consider them the most influential species in the animal kingdom (cats have long disputed this claim). Some have been consultants, and others therapists (a trade sorely needed by Presidents). But others have played more pivotal roles, for better and for worse.
Checkers, Richard Nixon’s pet, was an important contributor to Nixon’s political career and especially his Vice Presidency. Checkers was a Cocker Spaniel given to him by a Texan salesman, which became famous after Nixon mentioned the dog in a speech. While running for Vice President enemies claimed Nixon had received illegal campaign contributions. Nixon denied the charges on live television while presenting the audience with a detailed financial history. He claimed that the only thing that could be construed as suspect was the gift of Checkers. But Nixon claimed his kids liked the dog, and he, no matter what, was not going to give it back.
Wag the Dog: Nixon’s predecessor Gerald Ford ran into some trouble with his dog. It nearly kept him out of the White House, literally. Ford took office after the resignation of Richard Nixon, and brought with him his faithful Golden Retriever, Liberty. One night, President Ford took Liberty out for a walk on the south lawn as was his habit. Unfortunately for Ford, he failed to mention it to the Secret Service. While he was out, the Secret Service began securing the sleeping quarters of the White House. When Ford returned he was unable to get to his room or even use the elevator.
An Unwanted Gift: Perhaps the most disgraceful canine incident (at least from a dog’s point of view) involved Harry Truman and a dog named Feller, given to Truman as a Christmas gift in 1947. Truman never asked for or wanted the dog and decided to give it away. This caused quite a scandal. Thousands wrote letters telling the President that they would happily adopt the pet. But all to no avail. The dog was given to several people over time. It even stayed for a while at Camp David. It is rumored that the dog was quickly taken to groomers whenever the Truman’s were planning to visit Camp David, in case they wanted to see the dog. They never did.
Founding Pet: The role of dogs in the White House has been extremely positive. The tradition of first dogs was begun the way so many presidential traditions began – with our first president, George Washington. During his tenure however, the title of first dog was under serious dispute since Washington had over 30 dogs.
Although much of his early life is undocumented, it is not unreasonable to assume he had dogs his entire life, since he seems always to have been a great outdoorsman. As President, Washington received several French foxhounds from his friend and fellow revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette as a gift. Washington tried his hand at breeding and was partly responsible for the founding of the American Foxhound.
Fala la la...: Perhaps the most popular first dog was FDR’s Fala. He received thousands of letters a week and even a secretary to help him read and answer them all. Once, after Fala had been involved in a “skunk” incident, he received a letter from a dog telling Fala he should be ashamed of himself. Fala promised to henceforth conduct himself with more dignity and prudence. Fala was such a prominent figure that he became an integral part of FDR’s image, and was once even used by Republican opponents to attack FDR’s character.
Bill's Best Friend: Bill Clinton was a great dog lover. He once quipped, “If you want a friend in Washington you have to get a dog.” Other Presidents have been downright eccentric when it came to their dogs. Honest Abe Lincoln demanded that his dog Fido never be scolded or tied up alone. If he was whining or uncomfortable, he was immediately to be let in the house and family room. Once there, people were expected to make room on the couch so Fido could be as comfortable a possible. John Adams had a dog he called Satan. And President Harding's dog attended cabinet meetings, where he sat comfortably in a hand made chair. The dog, called Laddie Boy, was actually given big Birthday parties, where all the neighborhood dogs were invited (even Democratic dogs) and given delicious dog biscuit cake. When Harding died suddenly, it is said that Laddie Boy moaned for three days prior to the President's untimely death, giving off an ominous warning.
The Dog House: Today, the seat of first dog is still occupied by George Bush's Scottish Terrier, Miss Beazley. Apparently, her favorite activity is playing with volley and golf balls. Before Miss Beazley the White House was occupied by 2 friends, Barney, a Scottish Terrier, and Spot, an English Spaniel Terrier. Spot was the only second generation first dog, born to George Bush Sr.’s dog, Millie, while she was living in the White House, making Spot the only dog to live in the White House twice. Spot passed away recently. Afterwards, Barney moved out of the White House and has since been spending more time at the Bush's Texas ranch.