Americans have always been fascinated with the everything that goes on in the White House, including their pets and pet care. Presidents’ pets become part of the First Family and win over constituents by doing everything from giving tours of the White House to improving foreign relations.
Historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University told Newsday that is almost mandatory for the First Families to have pets, noting that having pets in the White House helps Americans relate to the First Family. Perhaps that’s why when President Barack Obama took office in 2008, attention quickly turned to the debate of what type of dog he should get for his two daughters.
After much deliberation, the Obama family settled on a Portuguese water dog, gifted to them by the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Several publications, including People Magazine, published photos of the black, furry puppy. People reported Obama’s daughters named it Bo after their cousin’s cat and their grandfather’s nickname, “Bo Diddley.”
George W. Bush had two Scottish terriers while in office, and used them to virtually open his home to people. The terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley, appeared in films on the official White House website. Webcams were strapped to the dogs, and visitors received guided tours of the White House gardens and holiday decorations.
First Families didn’t just have dogs – President Bill Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, had a cat, Socks, named for the contrast of its white paws against its black fur. Socks was so involved with his family that he was often photographed in the White House briefing room or on Clinton’s shoulder. He even “signed” the Clintons’ Christmas card with a paw mark. When Socks passed away at about 20 years of age in 2009, numerous publications, including CNN, wrote stories about his legacy.
Pets are relatable and help the First Family keep a sense of normalcy, but these dogs are still in the national spotlight – and sometimes, situations surrounding them are anything but normal. When John F. Kennedy was in office, his family was gifted a dog by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The dog was named Pushinka, which is Russian for “fluffy,” according to “Pets at the White House,” a new book by Jennifer Boswell Pickens about the presidents’ pets. The Kennedys grew to love Pushinka, but before they could entirely trust man’s best friend, she had to undergo testing to rule out the use of spy devices or bombs.