Why Do We Expect Presidents To Own Dogs?

What kind of dog would President Donald Trump get if his son Barron asked for one? A Xoloitzcuintli, those exotic looking Mexican hairless dogs? No, of course not, send that good boy back! 

Or maybe a Pungsan  because North Korea’s Kim Jong Un recently gifted South Korean President Moon Jae-in with two of the rare Korean hunting dogs as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries? Probably, actually, yes. Look at how hyped up Trump gets whenever Kim sends him a letter; imagine how over the moon he’d be if is favorite dictator sent a rare dog to the White House. 

It’s a fun thing to consider, but ultimately, the debate is moot. The president is famously dog-averse. Breaking from a long tradition of presidents with pups, Trump is the first POTUS in about 150 years to have no known pets while occupying the White House.

“I wouldn’t mind having one, honestly, but I don’t have any time,’” he told supporters at an El Paso rally in February. “How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?” 

What’s more, a dog really doesn’t fit his personal brand.

“Feels a little phony to me,” he said.  Though he said many have told him a dog might be good for optics and his public image, he’s doesn’t see the need because “that’s not the relationship I have with my people.” 

It doesn't matter how much support these dogs throw behind President Trump, he's not interested.  (Photo: HuffPost Life)

Hey, you can’t fault the guy for admitting he’s not a dog person. But in the minds of most Americans, dogs and presidents just seem to go together. So why is it that the public expects presidents to own a dog or two? Because, like many have told Trump, if you’re going for an everyman image, it’s great for optics.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 57% of households had a pet at the end of 2016. (Some surveys place the number even higher.) Owning a dog makes a candidate relatable in a way that not much else can. 

Dog ownership is sort of like the nonalcoholic version of “you could have a beer with them” voter litmus test, Andrew Hager told HuffPost. He’s the historian in residence at the Presidential Pet Museum, which features a collection of presidential pet memorabilia outside of Baltimore. 

A dog also suggests a sort of innate goodness in its owner.

“People believe that someone who has a good relationship with a dog must be a good person, because they believe animals can judge character,” Hager said. “You see this play out all the time in movies, where dogs growl at the bad guy. The opposite of that would be a dog lovingly romping with a president — that person must be good, right?”

Plus, being a president is stressful. It’s reassuring to picture the president having a loyal dog by their side at the end of a hard time.

And in cut-throat D.C., that sort of companionship and unending loyalty is a rarity. As a saying often attributed to President Harry S. Truman goes, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

It’s not always a dog’s life at the White House. Every once in a while, a cat gets the chance to lord over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. President Bill Clinton’s cat, Socks, is a notable example. (The White House went back to the dogs in 1997, when the Clintons took in a chocolate Labrador puppy named Buddy. Socks and Buddies became fast frenemies.)

While every presidential dog has done a doggone good job bolstering his human’s public image, some of their legacies loom a little larger than others. Here, a non-exhaustive look at some notable First Dogs.

A few good dogs 

The first dog to really endear himself to the general public was Laddie Boy, an Airedale Terrier President Warren G. Harding and his wife, Florence, brought to the White House in 1921. 

“The first family didn’t have kids but included their four-legged friend in all aspects of their lives,” said Julia Moberg, the author of “Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House.” “Laddie Boy was written about daily in newspapers around the country. He became America’s first viral celebrity pet.” 

Laddie Boy poses with his portrait.  (Photo: Getty Editorial)

As the Smithsonian reported, Laddie Boy did it all, participating in the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, tagging along for golf outings with Harding and his cronies, and even sitting in on Cabinet meetings (sitting in his own chair, no less.) 

Laddie Boy also did damage control for Harding, a good-natured but flawed president.

“When the Harding presidency was rocked by several scandals within his cabinet, Harding was still viewed as a decent and respectable politician due in part to his close and loving relationship with Laddie Boy,” Moberg said.

When Harding died of a heart attack in San Francisco in 1923 while on a tour that had taken him to Alaska, The Associated Press ran an absolutely heartbreaking story on the dog the next day: 

“There was one member of the White House household today who could not quite comprehend the air of sadness which hung over the Executive Mansion. It was Laddie Boy, President Harding’s Airedale friend and companion. Of late he has been casting an expectant eye and cocking a watchful ear at the motor cars which roll up on the White House drive. For, in his dog sense way, he seems to reason that an automobile took [the Hardings] away, so an automobile must bring them back. White House attachés shook their heads and wondered how they were going to make Laddie Boy understand.”

Now that we’ve all ugly cried over Laddie, let’s move on: The next dog to capture the public’s imagination was Fala, a Scottish Terrier given as a puppy to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 as he geared up his quest for an unprecedented third term. Fala then came to figure prominently in the 1944 campaign, as Republicans attacked Roosevelt over a false story that the dog had been inadvertently left in the Aleutian Islands during the president’s stop there and that FDR dispatched a Navy destroyer to retrieve him.

In a September speech to union members in Washington nationally broadcast on radio, Roosevelt rose to his pet’s defense. GOP leaders, he said, “have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. ... They now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Fala’s “Scotch soul was furious,” he continued. “He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself ... But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog.”

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Franklin D. Roosevelt's dog Fala, listening to the President's speech on the radio. (Photo: George Skadding via Getty Images)

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote that Roosevelt’s audience “went wild, laughing and cheering. ... And the laughter carried beyond the banquet hall; it reverberated in living rooms and kitchens throughout the country.”

It came to be known as the “Fala speech.” And Roosevelt went on to easily win a historic fourth term. 

The next well-known dog in presidential lore also was spotlighted in political oratory ― Checkers. Though the cocker spaniel never actually occupied the White House, then-Sen. Richard Nixon of California made him a household name in September 1952.

At the time, Nixon was Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. But Nixon was embroiled in scandal over accepting gifts from GOP donors, and Eisenhower was considering replacing him. But then came the famous “Checkers speech.”

“Nixon went on television and gave a speech explaining his actions,” Hager said. “Notably, he ended the speech by saying that the one gift he had accepted was a dog named Checkers, and that his family was going to keep that gift. The speech was well-received, and it saved his political career.”

Nixon served two terms as vice president and then won the top office in 1968. 

"Thanks for saving my career, ol' boy."  (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)

First Dogs have figured in snafus, too. President Lyndon B. Johnson enraged animal lovers in 1964 when he lifted his pet beagle, Him, by the ears in front of the press. (Has there ever been a more impersonal name for a dog than ‘Him’?)

In more recent times, Hager said it could be argued that Barney Bush, George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier, was more popular than the president in the waning years of his second term. (The Bushes welcomed a second Scottish Terrier, Miss Beazley, a little later on.) 

The White House even set up a Barneycam that tracked the little guy’s activities during the holiday season. Of course, even the goodest of boys can get embroiled in political scandal.

“There was an incident where Barney bit the hand of a reporter, so he wasn’t without controversy,” Hager said.

Lesson learned? Next time, be sure you’re on a terrier’s good side before touching him.

Barack Obama and his family didn’t have a pup before arriving at the White House since his older daughter, Malia, was allergic to animal fur. That changed once he was elected in 2008. 

“Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much … and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House,” Obama said in his Grant Park victory speech.

That presidential pooch? Bo, a hypoallergenic Portuguese Water Dog. A few years later, Bo got a sister named Sunny.  The pups were so in-demand, they had their own official White House schedule.

Bo (L) and Sunny, the Obama family dogs. (Photo: Handout via Getty Images)

A look at the good boys who could be the next first dog

If Trump takes the White House again, maybe he’ll relent and let Barron get a dog. If he loses, there are plenty of Democratic candidates who’d be all too happy to pack up the Kibbles And Bits and bring their dog along to the White House. 

It’s very on-brand that Elizabeth Warren owns a golden retriever named Bailey (after the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”), Hager said. 

“She is positioning herself as a champion of the little guy, and even her dog is taking up that mantle,” he said. 

Other Democratic contenders have taken “adopt, don’t shop” to heart: Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg both have rescue dogs.

Mayor Pete’s dogs, Truman and Buddy, are Instagram famous.

O’Rourke’s dog, Artemis, has already had a viral moment, after posing with the Texas politician on the cover of Vanity Fair in March. Clearly, Artie wasn’t in the mood for an Annie Leibovitz photoshoot that day. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a shelter dog, too: a German Shepherd named Major.

“The interesting distinction here is that Major was a foster dog that the Bidens chose to adopt,” Hager said. “Apparently, at one point the dog had been exposed to toxic chemicals before the Biden family fostered him. Say what you will about the former vice president as a candidate, but I believe fostering a dog with special needs is a great thing.” 

Plenty more candidates have dogs, too, and others are smartly considering getting a pooch. 

At a campaign event in Iowa, Cory Booker was asked by an 11-year-old if he had a dog. Booker, a bachelor, said he’s currently dog-less but he wants to get one if he makes it to the White House. 

“There’s still time, he really should get a pooch,” Moberg said. “At this point in the race, I think it’s any dog’s game!”


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"This is Stitch! We adopted him from Paws In The City in Dallas, and he has quickly become the best part of our little family." -- Hallie Noble, Stitch's mom (Follow Stitch on Instagram)
"Here's Dusty on his adoption day! This photo was taken the actual MOMENT I met him. Can you believe that!? When he was rescued by True North Rescue Mission, he was on his way to be a puppy mill dad and live his entire life in a cage." -- Jessie Ruane, Dusty's mom (Follow him on Instagram)
"Meet our beautiful boy, Benjamin (he's the one to the right). He is a year old. He is a pitbull mixed with a labrador. We rescued him about seven months ago. He was badly abused as a baby and would wet himself for no reason. Now he's a happy, playful, loveable sweetie. He's enjoying his life with his two pupper siblings!" -- Rossanne Van Schalkwyk, Benjamin's mom
"Here's our dog, Penny. This is the moment in the elevator at Bideawee's adoption center in New York when we knew we had found the perfect little girl." -- John Sechrist, Penny's dad (Follow Penny on Instagram)
"Henrietta (Henry) came into my life in January of this year, after she was found wandering on the streets in East Oakland. At first she was very nervous -- she hid in the bathroom for the first week! She's still shy around strangers, but now she loves cuddles, chasing squirrels, getting blow dried after baths, and her toy fox." -- Laura Alexandra, Henry's mom (Follow Henry on Instagram)
"Roxy is full of energy and love and brings us so many laughs. We've also met most of our friends through her! She keeps us social."- Sarah Brown Carter, Roxy's mom (Follow Roxy on Instagram)
"This is Rex. His previous owners told the rescue group they did not have the means to take care of him. He had trauma to his neck we think was from a shock collar, and more around his belly where we think he had been pulling out his fur. The group warned us he was afraid of strangers and very shy, and that we should expect several weeks before he warmed to us. But by the time we had filled out the paperwork, he was happy to leave with us. I don't know what it is. He really is standoffish to strangers, but he attached himself to my wife, son and I immediately. It's been almost two months now. He is all healed up, and still likes to chill upside down." -- Dan, Rex's dad
"Meet Fluke, a former rescue that was adopted by our family in November 2017!" -- Josh Patrick, Fluke's dad 
"We have had Zelda for just under one month. We went to a rescue event by Ruff House Rescue in New York, where we live, with the intention of just beginning to look at some dogs for adoption, thinking it would be a long process overall. Zelda wasn't as loud or playful when we first saw her in her crate, but as soon as we asked to take her for a walk, she opened up immediately, wagging her tail and licking our faces. The 'before' picture is what we have from when she was brought to the shelter. The 'after' photo was taken on the car ride back to her new home from the rescue adoption event." -- Alina Cote, Zelda's mom
"Adopting Dax is one of the best decisions I have ever made. He has been there through all of the ups and downs of my life. He is the best adventure partner and cuddle buddy. I keep him safe and he keeps me wild." --  Kelsi Keys, Dax's mom 
"This is Dandelion the dog! We adopted her at the Oregon Humane Society through their second chance program. Dandelion was transferred to the Humane Society from an overcrowded shelter in California." -- Úna Rose, Dandelion's mom
"This is Cora. We adopted her through the BISSELL Pet Foundation event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She came there through Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control. We don’t know much about her exact background except she’s had a litter or two. She has a playful, sweet energy. My fiancé, her dog and three cats, myself, and Cora are all settling in quite well!" -- Kasey Blauwkamp, Cora's dad
"This is Dex. He was found abandoned on the streets. The vet believed he had gone half his life untreated from demodectic mange and a heart murmur. All the credit goes to Pug Rescue Austin and those who donated to his cause for turning his life around. He is likely just over a year old, and is fully cured and happy in our home with our four other pug rescues."  -- Mark Shockley
"This is Terabyte (Tera for short) and our youngest son. Tera is a cattle dog, found dumped in a field. She’s super smart, sweet, snuggly, and also happens to be deaf. I took this photo right after we had signed the adoption papers and picked her up from her foster family." -- Kristin Cooper, Tera's mom
"This is Kai, who was brought into the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home when his owners could no longer cope with his care – he had reportedly been passed from home to home and had never known a stable, loving forever home. Kai was admitted to us on April 4 and was just taken home to his forever home last weekend. The photo on the left was when he was with us and the photo on the right was sent to us by his new owners, an hour after being re-homed." -- Julie Thomson, communications manager at the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home
"This is Hazel, a Husky-Alsatian living in Oakland. My family is quite obsessed with her!" -- Hannah Evans, Hazel's aunt (Follow Hazel on Instagram)
"The first time we took Oliver on a car ride, he was shaking and crying (we assume because the only time he had ever been in a car before was to take him to the shelter). Now he loves car rides because he knows he's going to get to see a new friend or go play somewhere!" -- Jenna Gunselman, Oliver's mom 
"This is Marty. We went to the shelter looking for a dog as a companion for our handicapped labrador, Zoe. We met a few puppies who were too high energy and stressful for her condition so we left, feeling defeated. As we were walking out, Zoe dragged us over to Marty's pen. Both their noses touched, tails wagging, and we knew they had to meet. They were instantly as ease around each other and Marty was even careful around her, almost aware that she needed special attention. He was a perfect fit for our family." -- Christina Haberkern, Marty's mom (Follow Marty and Zoe on Instagram)
"My dog Suki on adoption day and nine years later. I love that Suki has been a major support for me, especially for my mood disorders. Suki has been with me since freshman year of high school, all through college, and now my adult life. No matter what, she always provides the best cuddles I could have ever asked for." -- Martha Gutierrez, Suki's mom
"This is Kodak! He’s a four-month old black lab/shepherd mix. He came to ALIVE Rescue Memphis from Animal Rescue Corps. They had saved him from a hoarding case in Tennessee. I saw his picture and instantly fell in love! He looks just like my 14 year old lab/mix named Ocho did when she was a puppy." -- Candice Shearman, Kodak's mom (Follow Kodak and his siblings on Instagram)
"Otis is my best friend. He's a furry shoulder to cry on and he is my reason to smile again. When I first saw his little face a year ago, I knew he was the one for me and it was the best decision I ever made." -- Bethany Mitchell, Otis' mom (Follow Otis on Instagram)
"Meet my dogson, Wicket the Ewok dog!" -- Nicci See, Wicket's mom (Follow Wicket on Instagram)
"This is Bella. The photo on the left was taken as soon as we got to the shelter. She was a mess: coat matted and long, she couldn't even see, but we fell in love! We took her home, cleaned her up, and now she's a healthy, happy puppy. I love her little smile and how her tongue always sticks out of her mouth!" -- Krystal K., Bella's mom
"My wife Jen and I rescued Benny from CareTX in San Antonio, Texas. They saved him from a kill shelter in San Antonio. He and his litter were found on the street. Benny was shy and suffering from mange when we first met but those goofy ears and sweet eyes won us over. He is some mix of cattle dog, very active and has no trouble keeping up with me for hours on my mountain bike. We are a pretty active hiker, camper, fly fisherman family so having an active dog fits our lifestyle, despite the lack of cattle." -- Brandon Engen, Benny's dad 

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.