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FIRST DOGS: AMERICAN PRESIDENTS AND THEIR PETS @ THE NEWSEUM

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No White House "leaks"

Pres. Gerald Ford with Liberty in Oval Office (David Hume Kennerly)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. Nov. 21, 2008 (Cable Muse Network)  -- The Newseum has opened a new exhibit that takes a playful look at the history of canine companions in the White House. "First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets" features photographs and anecdotes about more than two dozen dogs and their owners, from George Washington (who not only owned, but also bred, dogs), to President-elect Barack Obama, who famously promised daughters Sasha and Malia that they had "earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House."

"First Dogs" opens with a popular inside-the-beltway quote, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog," often incorrectly attributed to President Harry S. Truman. The exhibit notes that when Truman received a cocker spaniel puppy, Feller, as a Christmas present in 1947, he promptly gave the dog away to his doctor.

Presidential pups have fared quite nicely at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., including a trio of Scottish terriers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fala had his own press secretary; President George H.W. Bush’s Millie "wrote" her own book, which became a bestseller and even outsold her owner’s book; and President George W. Bush’s Barney became an Internet sensation with his "Barney-cam" looks at life inside the White House.

Millie's Book


Warren G. Harding’s Airedale Laddie Boy, however, emerges as top dog among presidential pets. Laddie Boy had his own hand-carved wooden chair at Cabinet meetings. When Harding, a former newspaperman, died in office, newsboys across the country collected pennies to make a copper statue of his beloved pet.

The 40-foot-long Newseum exhibit features 24 photographs or illustrations, including the first presidential pet photograph. President Lincoln’s mutt Fido was photographed in Illinois so Lincoln’s sons would have a memento, since Fido was not making the trip to the nation’s capital for the 1861 inauguration.

"First Dogs" also includes a behind-the-scenes look at how President Gerald R. Ford dealt with the same issue facing President-elect Obama. Ford’s photographer, David Hume Kennerly, was looking for a golden retriever for his boss in 1974 but didn’t want to reveal who the owner would be. "Do they own or rent?" the breeder asked. "I guess you could say they live in public housing," Kennerly deadpanned. Ford named the dog Liberty.

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