WASHINGTON (AP) _ He was a young but valued member of the president's inner circle. He had what all presidential advisers crave _ the all-important ``total access'' to the most powerful man in America.

George Stephanopoulos? No, shorter and shaggier.

Warren Harding's dog, Laddie Boy.

Indeed, Harding's Airedale had his own seat in the White House Cabinet Room and attended meetings.

From Martha Washington's parrot to President Clinton's new Labrador puppy, pets that have occupied the White House have been a source of enjoyment for the public as well as first families.

They have also helped their owners' images.

``I'm absolutely convinced that pets who lived in the White House helped our presidents win friends and ease tensions,'' said Ronnie Elmore, associate dean of Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Elmore has been researching presidential pets for seven years and is planning a book.

``This seems to be a hobby people like hearing about,'' Elmore said. ``Americans have a love affair with pets, and presidents are no different.''

Besides the obvious value of pets, some first pets have been helpful in more practical ways.

William Howard Taft owned a dairy cow, named Pauline Wayne, who provided milk for the White House.

Woodrow Wilson raised sheep, from which he harvested wool used to make clothes and sheets for soldiers during World War I.

Franklin Roosevelt made political capital of his Scottish terrier, Fala, in one of his most famous speeches.

In the presidential campaign of 1944, Republicans spread the story that Fala had been left behind on an island in the Aleutians and a destroyer had been sent back to retrieve the dog at a high cost to taxpayers.

In a September speech, Roosevelt took on his foes and ended with these words:

``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.''

He went on to win an unprecedented fourth term.

A dog came in handy for Richard Nixon, too. Nixon saved his spot on the 1952 Republican ticket with his ``Checkers'' speech.

But Lyndon Johnson got in trouble on the White House lawn when he lifted his beagles, Him and Her, by the ears.

One White House pet made an unusual appearance at the side of his sick young owner in an effort to cheer him up.

Theodore Roosevelt's son, Archie, was sick in bed, so his brothers, Kermit and Quentin, put the family pony, Algonquin, on the White House elevator for transport to Archie's room on the second floor.

Legend has it that a faint hoofprint can still be detected.

First pets have also caused their share of headaches for their owners.

Dwight Eisenhower's Weimaraner, Heidi, was less than fond of photographers and would often attack them. Heidi was also scolded by first lady Mamie Eisenhower for wetting a rug in the White House's Diplomatic Room.

Benjamin Harrison's goat, Whiskers, ran away, and passersby were treated to the sight of the president chasing Whiskers down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Clinton's as-yet-unnamed puppy will join first cat Socks in the Executive Mansion, which has been occupied by such varied animals as John Quincy Adams' alligator; Abraham Lincoln's goat, Nanny; Rutherford B. Hayes' pedigreed Jersey cows; Theodore Roosevelt's snake, Emily Spinach, and Calvin Coolidge's raccoons, Rebecca and Horace.

It is believed that Adams' alligator resided in a White House bathtub.

Today's White House pets are claimed to be high achievers: Socks has his own Web page and Millie, George and Barbara Bush's brown-and-white springer spaniel, wrote her own book.

But first pets always have been active.

Richard Nixon made a point of having foreign leaders meet his Irish setter, King Timahoe.

Among the more recent White House pets were Ronald Reagan's sheep dog, Lucky; Amy Carter's cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang, and Gerald Ford's golden retriever, Liberty.