Spot Bush and the Glories and Scandals of Other Canines in Chief

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White House Pet Scandals

Harry Truman once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." But it's more than a matter of canine companionship. If you want to sit in the Oval Office, you really need a pet.

Of America's 42 presidents, only Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur failed to provide the White House with animal occupants, making it a near requirement for aspiring commanders in chief.

About 60 percent of all American families have a pet, and taking one inside the Beltway only makes the first family seem more in touch with average Americans. "The White House is, after all, a home," says Carl Anthony, author of America's First Families (Touchstone). "Pets often help presidents and their families cope with the incredible pressures of being under the microscope."

Some 400 beasts have occupied the White House, and some of the earlier presidents had a passion for the exotic. Thomas Jefferson kept grizzly bears in a cage in his garden. John Quincy Adams let his alligator reside in a White House bathtub. And Calvin Coolidge had a virtual menagerie that included a bobcat, two raccoons, a donkey and a wallaby.

Problem is, sometimes the first pet has become something of a political liability.

Theodore Roosevelt's bull terrier, Pete, caused a wee bit of an international scandal when he tore a leg off the French ambassador's trousers during a White House function, according to Roy Rowan, author of First Dogs (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill).

Lyndon B. Johnson provoked a firestorm of animal cruelty accusations when he picked up his beagles, Him and Her, by their ears so that photographers could get a better shot. Dog owners complained, but Johnson had a characteristic answer: "To make them bark is good for them."

And Coolidge's vast array of critters didn't help his reputation for being a misanthrope. Anthony reports that Coolidge's collie Rob Roy once menaced a senator at lunch. "Senator," Coolidge said, "I think he wants your sausage." The senator relented.