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  •   Home > News > Living & Travel

    Donald Trump's lack of a dog has become an election issue. Here are four dogs that made US political history

    Donald Trump's dog, or lack of one, has been made a campaign issue. But this isn't the first time dogs have played a part in US politics. One might have even played a role in averting a nuclear war.

    US President Donald Trump doesn't have a dog.

    Joe Biden, meanwhile, has two German shepherds — he adopted one of them, Major, after fostering him.

    This difference between the two candidates has become a campaign issue, with an ad from "Dog Lovers for Joe" denouncing Mr Trump for being the first president in a century not to have a dog in the White House.

    (It's a charge that's only technically true — more on that below.)

    This isn't the first time dogs have played a part in US politics. Here are some others.


    The Presidential Pets Museum (yes, it's a real museum) lists the Kennedys as having more than 20 pets during their time at the White House — including dogs, birds, hamsters, horses, a cat named Tom Kitten and a rabbit named Zsa Zsa.

    The Kennedys had so many dogs that a special play area was reportedly built for them near the West Wing.

    And one of these dogs may have helped prevent a nuclear war.

    The story starts in 1961.

    In April, CIA-backed forces launch an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs with the aim of toppling Fidel Castro's communist government.

    The invasion is bungled and Castro's army defeats the invaders in three days. The events push Cuba further from the USA, diplomatically, and closer to the Soviet Union.

    In June, JFK, accompanied by his wife Jacqueline, flies to Vienna for a summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

    "By all accounts Khrushchev dominates the summit, just really destroying Kennedy every single day," Presidential Pet Museum historian Andrew Hager tells ABC RN's Saturday Extra.

    "But at night, they have these state dinners."

    At one of the state dinners, Khrushchev is seated next to Jacqueline Kennedy. They discuss Belka and Strelka, the Soviet space dogs that had orbited earth the year before.

    "Strelka had just had puppies," Mr Hager says. "Jackie Kennedy said, 'Oh, well, you must send me one of those puppies'."

    Two weeks later, a dog is delivered to the White House. She comes with a Russian passport which gives her name as Pushinka — Russian for "fluffy" — and lists her as a mixed-breed.

    "The FBI had to come over and evaluate the dog to make sure there were no secret listening devices or hidden explosives," Mr Hager says.

    Confirmed as explosive-free, Pushinka becomes part of the family. She is even trained to play on young Caroline Kennedy's slippery-slide.

    She has puppies with the Kennedy's Welsh terrier, Charlie.

    A couple of the puppies, which JFK jokingly refers to as "pupniks", are given away to two of the thousands of children who write to the White House asking for one. The other two are given to family friends.

    In October 1962, a US spy plane photographs Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, less than 150 kilometres from the US coast.

    During the next 13 days, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, many fear the world will be plunged into nuclear war.

    Eventually, there are concessions from both sides and nuclear holocaust is averted.

    Mr Hager says some historians believe Pushinka influenced Kennedy's handling of the crisis.

    "If a person is going to send you a puppy, it's hard to look at them … and think, 'Oh, I should drop a nuclear bomb on them,'" he says.


    "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

    That quote has been attributed to Harry S Truman, although there's no evidence he ever said it — and Truman was more famous for giving away dogs than for keeping them.

    His daughter's Irish setter, Mike, was sent to a farm after developing rickets.

    In 1947, a cocker spaniel named Feller was sent to the Trumans via air freight as a Christmas gift from Mrs Marsden of Galena, Illinois, who reportedly was a nurse of Truman's late mother.

    He was very soon after given to White House physician Brigadier General Wallace Graham.

    It was a controversial stance, but Truman is said to have not wanted a dog in the White House.

    "If the Republicans had known this they might have won the election," noted syndicated columnist H I Phillip.

    "There are enough dog lovers to swing a tide."


    Fala the Scottish terrier was given to Franklin D Roosevelt in 1940.

    The dog was well trained, and sometimes accompanied the president on international trips.

    In 1944, while campaigning for re-election, Roosevelt was accused by Republicans of forgetting Fala on an island and sending a US Navy destroyer back to collect him, at enormous expense to the taxpayer.

    In a speech to the International Teamsters Union, which was also broadcast on radio, Roosevelt ridiculed the allegations.

    "I don't resent attacks, and my family don't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them … He has not been the same dog since."

    "He just kind of makes the Republicans look ridiculous for talking about his dog without ever really addressing the issue," Mr Hager says.

    A statue of Fala stands at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC.


    The Nixons were joined at the White House by a French poodle named Vicky, a Yorkshire terrier named Pasha and an Irish setter named King Timahoe.

    But Nixon's most famous dog never lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    In 1952, Nixon was running for vice-president on the Republican ticket with Dwight D Eisenhower — and he was facing a scandal.

    "He had been accused of accepting gifts from wealthy Republican donors," Mr Hager says.

    There was pressure for Nixon to resign from the campaign, with even Eisenhower refusing to back his running mate.

    "Nixon said, 'Well, let me give a speech to the American people,'" Mr Hager says.

    "A lot of Eisenhower's aides thought Nixon was going to resign during the speech but what he does instead is deny the charges."

    Nixon rejects any wrongdoing — but he does admit to having been given a cocker spaniel, which his children had named Checkers.

    "The kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it."

    "He uses the dog as an emotional appeal, and it saves Nixon's political career — his popularity goes up," Mr Hager says.

    Eisenhower decides against replacing Nixon as his running mate, and the pair are victorious come November. Sixteen years later, Nixon is elected president.

    "Without Checkers, we probably would never have had President Nixon," Mr Hager says.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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