During this rather negative presidential campaign season, many voters would have appreciated seeing the candidates with some four-legged companions. Unfortunately, the candidates didn’t seem to recognize the positive effect that showing glimpses of themselves with their pets would have on pet-owning voters. It is puzzling to me why Sen. Barack Obama did not obtain a dog for his children during the campaign and why Sen. John McCain was not photographed with any of his numerous pets since doing so could have smoothed some of the rough edges on both candidates. Many previous White House residents have benefited politically by embracing their furry family members.
Like Obama, President Herbert Hoover was advised to get a family pet during his campaign. He obtained King Tut, a German shepherd. Autographed photos of Hoover and King Tut were sent all over the United States to give Hoover a warm appearance. President Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection in 1944 was partially due to appearances with his little black Scottish terrier, Fala, his constant companion. During the campaign, Roosevelt’s opponents claimed that he had wasted money by turning a destroyer around on the way back from the Aleutian Islands to pick up Fala who he had left behind. In his famous Fala speech in which he denied the incident, Roosevelt mocked his opponents by saying that they weren’t happy just criticizing him but were now criticizing Fala, which made Fala’s “little Scotch soul furious.” And Richard Nixon saved his place as the vice-presidential candidate in 1952 when he denied that he had a slush fund and said that the only gift he had received while in office was his black-and-white cocker spaniel Checkers, which he refused to give back.
The public perceived all three men as being warm, caring individuals because of their relationships with their pets. During the early 1920s Laddie Boy, President Warren Harding’s Airedale terrier, was thought of more highly than the president and was often even interviewed by the press.
Pets at the White House have also been used to divert attention from unpleasant press. It is not surprising that President Bill Clinton obtained Buddy, a chocolate Lab, at the height of his scandalous interactions with Monica Lewinsky. Evidence indicates that Buddy spent most of his time in the basement of the White House and was only used for favorable photo opportunities with the president.
Knowing that pets reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is comforting to most Americans. Demonstrating a special bond with a family pet could make a real difference in a very close election.
Ronnie G. Elmore, DVM, MS, DACT, is the associate dean for admissions and diversity programs at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He is a recognized expert on presidential pets and has a large collection of presidential pet memorabilia.