Here’s some presidential dog trivia

By CHARLES DUNAGIN GUEST COLUMNIST,

I once wrote a column about a couple of things Harry Truman, the classic Democrat, and Donald Trump, the maverick Republican, have in common.

The most notable was that they both won upset elections — Truman in 1948 and Trump in 2016 — and mocked the pollsters and news  media after doing  it.

Here’s another similarity: Trump, like Truman, doesn’t like dogs.

This bit of trivia hadn’t occurred to me until I read a column by Marty Russell in the  Daily Journal of Tupelo suggesting the president should get a dog “if it’s loyalty he wants and someone who won’t talk back or question him.”

“Trump has never owned a pet, be it a dog or a cat or otherwise,” Russell wrote. “This is probably because he would never want to have anything or anyone around him who would draw attention away from himself. In fact, he seems to delight in calling any detractors dogs.”

The Presidential Pet Museum quotes the Truman Library as saying the Trumans “preferred to be a pet-free family.”  Historians  doubt that Truman actually is the source of a quote often attributed to him:  "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." 

However, in May 1945, shortly after Truman became president upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Postmaster General Robert Hannegan gave Truman’s daughter, Margaret, an Irish setter puppy she named Mike.

Mike spent the summer at the Truman family home in Independence, Mo., and was at the White House briefly with 21-year-old Margaret. He developed rickets — possibly from eating too many table scraps fed to him by staff members before he was given to a farmer in Virginia.

Mike’s brief stay at the White House may be the reason some sources say Trump is the first president since William McKinley instead of Truman not to have a presidential dog. McKinley, despite not owning a dog while in office, did own an assortment of odd animals, including roosters and a Mexican double-yellow-headed parrot named “Washington Post,” according to the Presidential Pet Museum.

In 1947, a supporter from Missouri sent Truman a cocker spaniel puppy named Feller.

The president angered dog lovers when he gave away the puppy to his physician.

Asked by a reporter a few months later what happened to Feller, Truman replied “Oh, he’s around.’”

Feller eventually wound up at a farm in Ohio, where he lived happily for many years until he died of old age, according to the Presidential Pet Museum.

Wikipedia notes that Truman even angered pet owners after he was out of office. When President Lyndon B. Johnson caused an uproar after he was photographed picking up his two beagles, Him and Her,  by their ears, Truman was quoted: “What the hell are the critics complaining about; that's how you handle hounds.”

Then there was Checkers who helped Richard Nixon become vice president but never lived in the White House.

Two months after Gen. Dwight Eisenhower selected Nixon as his running mate in 1952, Nixon came under attack when questions were raised about his alleged misuse of $18,000 in campaign funds. That’s a pittance in the age of Trump and Mississippi gubernatorial races, but then it was a big deal.

Nixon went on television in a 30-minute address paid for by the Republican National Committee to defend himself. He outlined his modest financial means and went on the attack against his opponents.

The most memorable part of the speech — and probably what defused the allegations — was when Nixon declared  that no matter what happened as a result of the controversy, his young daughters, Julie and Tricia, were keeping one gift from a supporter in Texas: a black-and-white cocker spaniel  puppy named Checkers.

Checkers lived with the Nixons until he died at the age of 13 in 1964, four years before Nixon was elected president. He wasn’t around when Nixon was hounded out of office in the Watergate scandal.

As for Truman and Trump — whose last names begin with Tru, another similarity — let’s hope Trump doesn’t become the first president since Truman to authorize use of an atomic bomb.