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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Leading By Example in the White House

Nixon_and_checkers_1957_2 I recently wrote about First Pets of presidents past and possibly future, and yesterday John Woestendiek of The Baltimore Sun expanded on the theme in his “Mutts” blog.  Woestendiek did another fascinating piece of reporting a few years back when he tracked down the family who gave Checkers to Richard Nixon, and told the cocker spaniel’s story on the 50th anniversary of the famous speech that kept Nixon on the ticket as veep.

Even if a dog or cat doesn’t change presidential history, being the First Pet is serious stuff.  Keeping up with correspondence and requests for pawprints is just a part of it.  Warren Harding’s Laddie Boy, who campaigned with his master for the White House, had his own chair at cabinet meetings, and spoke for the record on the working hours of guard dogs and the performance of the president’s top advisers.  FDR’s Fala had his own Secret Service moniker, “Informer,” when traveling, for his frequent need to go outside for walks inevitably signaled that the president was nearby.

At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we pay a lot of attention to presidential pets, and to presidential example.  We’re heartened when our nation’s highest office holder is someone who has adopted animals, and had them spayed and neutered, and provided the best veterinary care.  And we’re thrilled when the president is someone who looks with favor upon the animal-friendly legislation that comes over from the Congress to be signed into law.

Lbj_beagle A president can do a lot to help pets.  LBJ once got in trouble when he picked up his two beagles by their ears.  But when he signed the 1966 legislation that became the Animal Welfare Act, he did something tremendous for dogs.  So did our current president, George W. Bush, when he signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006 and the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act in 2007.

“If you want a friend in Washington,” Harry S. Truman once observed, “get a dog.”  More on point, Calvin Coolidge stated, “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.”

With the primary races still competitive, it’s too early to see whose pets are going to the White House.  But our political candidates should take heed of the historical record, for keeping pets is good for your reputation. 

Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and Chester Alan Arthur had no pets.

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