More Stories of ‘First Dogs’

By Joe Darby

The little-known Rutherford B. Hayes, who was US president from 1877 to 1881, could be considered the poster boy of worthy presidential pet lovers.

He was the first of the nation’s chief executives to publicly call for better treatment of animals. He used his state of the union address in 1878 to condemn animal cruelty. And he and his wife Lucy were known to have a deep love for dogs. So, in taking our second look at presidential canines, continued from last week, old Rutherford deserves our gratitude as a man who spoke out for the critters who could not speak for themselves.

Before I continue my tales of White House pups, I want to correct a couple of typos from last week’s column. First, Abraham Lincoln was first elected in 1860, not 1869. And the author of the book from which I am referencing these columns is Andrew Hager, not Hagel. The book is, “All American Dogs: A History of Presidential Pets From Every Era.”

So, getting back to Mr. Hayes, he and his family had a lot of dogs but perhaps the favorite was Grim a greyhound. “He is a good-natured dog…and took all our hearts at once,” the president said. Grim particularly loved Lucy and he would become ecstatic when she returned from a trip away from the White House. (You have no doubt experienced such behavior from your own beloved fur baby.) And Grim loved to howl along with Mrs. H when she sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”

President Grover Cleveland deserves a personal shout-out from me because he acquired two dachshunds in 1893 when the little wiener dogs were still pretty unknown in this country. Though I haven’t had any in recent years, dachshunds have been some of the favorite pups in my life and my oldest daughter Becky, 50, has seldom been without one of them. Her latest is a little darling named Pickles.

Anyway, to return to the White House pack. Teddy Roosevelt had a purebred Manchester named Jack, whom he dearly loved but who had a fear of cats, no doubt perplexing the boisterous President, who disdained any kinds of fear. Jack’s worst enemy was a feline called Tom Quartz who jumped on the poor pup every chance he got. The Roosevelts also had Skip. As Theodore described him, “He is half fox terrier and half bull terrier and is as cunning as possible.

Jack loved to go hunting with Teddy for bobcats and bears and would ride along with the President atop his horse, or run alongside. But at night, Jack turned into a gentle soul and curled up with Roosevelt in the presidential bed to sleep. Sadly, Jack died and was buried on White House grounds but when it came time for the family to vacate the residence in 1909, they decided they could not leave Jack behind so they dug up his little coffin and had it reburied on their family estate, Sagamore Hill.

(As I write this, a certain little poodle-terrier mix is trying to climb into the chair with me but I am having to turn her down. Baby doesn’t realize that it’s rather hard to type with her in my lap.)

I don’t have the space to talk about every President’s dog, but I think a quote by the rather unsuccessful chief executive Warren Harding is worthy of repeating. “Whether the Creator planned it so, or environment and human companionship have made it so, men may learn richly through the love and fidelity of a brave and devoted dog” Warren may have had his scandals in the White House, but he knew the value of at least one of the special joys of life.

Harding’s beloved dog was Laddie Boy, an Airedale. (My dad had one years ago, Vickie.) Laddie Boy was a privileged pup, indeed. He attended every cabinet meeting and had his own chair, just like any cabinet secretary. He also worked a bit for his living, too. He fetched the newspaper and brought it to the President every morning. Harding had 1,000 toy Laddie Boys made and gave them to supporters. They are now highly desired collector items. As you may imagine, airedales became highly popular at that time, the early 1920s.

You know what? I assume that you would like to hear about the First Dogs of more modern Presidents, so I’m going to continue this theme for at least one more week. There’s so much to tell that somebody could write a book about them. Oh, yes, of course. Mr. Hager did, and I recommend his book to you.