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Where I Stand A POTUS without a FDOTUS

September 23, 2018

“Every dog has its day,” the saying goes. Well, these dogs certainly do, and it’s today.

September 23 is National Dogs in Politics Day, also known as Checkers Day. Checkers refers not to the game but to a dog. We’ll get to that soon.

It’s also worth noting that calling someone a “dog” is one of Donald Trump’s favorite insults. Which is saying something.

Trump is the first president since McKinley (POTUS 1897-1901) not to have a dog. This is inauspicious for many reasons, but I think, first of all, someone in the Oval Office might read up on the dogless McKinley administration.

I love dogs. I have proudly worked for a German shepherd named Cassie, and a Chihuahua called Moose and several breeds in between. Besides their well-known qualities of love and loyalty, I find that dogs are excellent communicators. They’re quite good at letting you know what they want — and, more importantly, giving you what you need.

Advisers tried to get Trump to bring in a dog. Probably told him good for POTUS optics. And that he, our president, wouldn’t have to have anything to do with the dog except a photo maybe twice a year. Also, some wealthy supporter had a dog all picked out and trained. A hypoallergenic Goldendoodle named Patton.

Trump rejected Patton. Too busy, he said.

But someone might remind Trump of what cocker spaniel Checkers did for Richard Nixon. Helped keep him on the ticket as Veep with Eisenhower in 1952. For real. This is a historical fact. (Remember them?)

Other presidents, other dogs. Connecticut-educated George H. W. Bush owned Millie, a Springer spaniel while in the White House. His son, Connecticut-born George W. Bush had Spot, a Springer spaniel (whose mother was Millie).

Of course, the most recent First Dog of the United States (FDOTUS) was Bo the Portuguese Water Dog the Obamas got for their daughters.

Some other FDOTUSes:

Ronald Reagan had a virtual kennel. But Lucky, a Bouvier de Flandres, had to be leader of the pack. Lucky, Nancy Reagan said, was a “tiny ball of black fluff” that soon grew to “be the size of a pony,” known for zooming through the halls of the West Wing.

The Clintons cat (Socks) was better known than their dog (Buddy). Make of that what you wish.

LBJ’s beagles had their 15 minutes when their owner lifted one of them by its ears. Johnson apologized for this, but it was well known he loved his dogs and his dogs loved him.

Dwight Eisenhower had a Weimaraner — and a parakeet (Whoa! just imagine Trump with a pet that tweets; wouldn’t take long for feathers to fly).

And perhaps most famous of all was FDR’s Fala, a Scottie. Fala figured prominently in one of Roosevelt’s most famous speeches. On Sept. 23, 1944 (coincidentally the same date as Nixon’s Checkers speech), the president made a campaign speech, broadcast by all U.S. radio networks responding to made-up Republican accusations that he had accidentally left Fala behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a U.S. Navy destroyer to retrieve him at great expense to the taxpayers. Roosevelt told the country:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks… but Fala does resent them… 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.”

Point is, it’s been well over 100 years since a U.S. president hasn’t had a dog. (Not to mention that it’s probably been since never that a president hasn’t had a pet of some sort. Even McKinley did have some roosters.)

Dogs tend to humanize presidents. They provide a genuine link with tens of millions of Americans of all political persuasions. Dogs are always happy to see you. They never criticize you. And sometimes — as with Checkers —they’ll even help you get out of serious political jams.

No doubt, all these arguments have been made to the current kennel master at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No dice. No dog.

Or, as Mr. Trump supposedly said (well, maybe) when he rejected Patton the Goldendoodle, “What do I need a dog for when I’ve got Mike Pence?”

Andrea Haas Hubbell is a filmmaker and writer who lives in Washington, Conn.

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