An American president needs a dog as much as he needs a First Lady. George Washington began the custom of the presidential dog with Sweetlips and it continued with Thomas Jefferson’s Buzzy, Abraham Lincoln’s Fido and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fala. The latter dog was the centre of a national controversy after Roosevelt allegedly sent a US warship back to pick him up after the dog was left behind on the Aleutian Islands. Roosevelt defended himself saying ‘you can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog.’
When Richard Nixon, as Vice President, was accused of hiding a secret slush fund he boldly appeared on television with his cocker spaniel Chequers claiming that the dog was the only gift that he had ever received and that was for his daughters and furthermore, ‘I’m not going to give her back.’ Such was the national wave of emotional and political support for Nixon that his rating improved dramatically.
More recently Barack Obama’s two Portuguese water dogs have become perhaps the only real successes of his presidency. Living at the White House they travelled on Air Force One, met foreign dignitaries and even greeted the Pope. The people of the USA will miss them – if not Obama himself.
Many presume that a narcissist like Donald Trump would find it impossible to truly love someone or something other than himself. Its hard to associate him with any animal let alone a dog. Nor has his custom of referring to woman or opponents as ‘dogs’ given cause for optimism.
Yet Trump appears to be changing. His handlers must have noticed that they’re not going to gain any votes by hinting at such comparisons when almost one third of the population of the USA own a dog. Recently there have been new references to his pet Labrador Spinee. We are told that Trump adores Spinee and even asked the nation to pray for his beloved pet when Spinee recently underwent a risky operation. Trump kept tweeting on the dog’s progress throughout the night. This produced waves of sympathy for the dog and its master.
This shows that, as ever, a politician under fire for their comments or actions can turn the tables swiftly if they are prepared to show love for animals.