If he wants to return to the White House, Donald Trump needs a dog. Pictured: Trump addresses the media at the White House on November 25, 2019, after presenting a plaque and medal to the military dog named Conan, which helped US soldiers in the operation that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
If he wants to return to the White House, Donald Trump needs a dog.
That is not an idle observation.
White House history suggests that those presidents who enjoyed canine company in the Oval Office were better able to connect with their national constituency. No surprise when you consider that some 65 million American households report that they own a dog. Demographers also find that, as of 2021, the United States had the most dogs in the world per capita, 274 dogs for every 1000 people.
Dogs cannot but make you laugh, compel you to embrace their unconditional love and loyalty, and allow you to be a better person by simply being in the presence of a wagging tail and a wet nose. A candidate with a dog at his side sends a message that they share a unique insight into these qualities celebrated by dog owners across the country.
The importance of dogs in the White House has long been recognized to the point that in 1999, a Presidential Pet Museum was opened. Its mission remains to preserve the artifacts and legacy of Presidential pooches along with other White House pets.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump never had a pet in the White House and he is the poorer for it. It is easily corrected.
George Washington set the precedent. He is reported to have had 20 dogs, and visited the kennels daily to ensure some quality time with the brood when not guiding the new nation through its multiple challenges.
Lincoln had a dog named “Fido,” a name that has since become synonymous with dogs of any size, character, and breed. Unfortunately for master and pooch, Fido never quite adjusted to life in the White House and was sent to live with a friend of the president. But the friend was told never to yell at Fido if he had muddy paws in the house, listen for him scratching on the door and let him inside, and Fido walking around the dinner table was okay too.
Teddy Roosevelt had Pete, the Bull Terrier, that historians say would bite the ankles of staff and diplomatic visitors. Now that is a Presidential gatekeeper.
Calvin Coolidge had more than a dozen pets, from birds to a donkey, but historians say his favorite was a collie named Rob Roy.
Given his four terms in office, Franklin D. Roosevelt had eight dogs while in the White House. At one point his political opponents suggested he had the taxpayer underwrite travels with Fala, his Scottish Terrier. He used the allegation as a deadpan joke on the campaign trail, making Fala a celebrity. When you go to Washington D.C. you will find a Fala statue sitting with a bronze FDR at the president’s memorial.
Modern day presidents have also had dogs as companions. John Kennedy accepted a puppy from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Lyndon B. Johnson had beagles, and Ronald Reagan had a large Bouvier des Flandres that needed to roam on his California farm if they were to protect its quality of life.
George H.W. Bush had Millie, an English Springer Spaniel, and Bill Clinton had Buddy, a Lab, while Barack Obama had Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog.
Joe Biden has a new dog, named Commander. His previous dog, Major, is reputed to be the first shelter dog to call the White House home.
Political pundits have written that “Trump should be allowed to be Trump.” That should include allowing a dog in his life. As he prepares for his next run for office, Trump should remember what other White House occupants quietly recognized in the simple truth once uttered by Harry Truman. “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”