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

There's a new top dog in Washington. She has a presidential pedigree, and may even find some old bones buried in the White House lawn. Roll over, Buddy Clinton. It's time to see Spot run.

New First Pet Spot Fletcher Bush can hold her shaggy head high as the new canine in chief at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Sure, she'll have to nominally share her mantle with a Scottish terrier pup named Barney and a black short-haired cat named India. But there's no doubt who is the alpha dog in this animal house.

Spot in the Spotlight

Spot is the proud daughter of Millie Bush, whose dog-eyed account of White House life, Millie's Book, became a best seller, raising nearly $1 million for literacy programs. In fact, the autobiography (as told to then-first lady Barbara Bush) outsold the elder President Bush's memoirs.

At the height of her fame, Millie graced the cover of Life magazine, and George Bush pere had a dog biscuit dispenser shaped like a gumball machine at Camp David.

But life in the White House is not all caviar and kibble. The 11-year-old English springer spaniel will have to watch her tail. Mama Millie, who passed away, could have told her that. Washingtonian magazine once voted Millie the "Ugliest Dog" in the city.

Yeah, there is pressure on the pets to stay in line and make the president look good. The new first family had a second cat, an orange-and-white six-toed feline named Ernie, who has been relocated to Los Angeles.

The Bush family is giving no official explanation for the kitty's apparent demotion. But insiders say he was a little rough on the furniture. India is declawed.

The other dog moving into the White House, Barney, was a Christmastime gift from New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, who has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The pup is the offspring of her Scottie, Coors (named after the beer).

If competing with Spot isn't enough, Barney will be pressured to compete with the most famous presidential pet of all, Franklin Roosevelt's Fala, another Scottish terrier. Roosevelt took Fala everywhere. Roosevelt once even boasted that he had a naval destroyer fetch the pooch when Fala was accidentally left behind on the Aleutian Islands.

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.

Pet controversies are as old as the White House itself. Abraham Lincoln's mutt, Fido, suffered a shocking fate, much like his master: He was knifed to death in the street by a drunk who became angry when the dog jumped on him with muddy paws.

Rowan recounts the story of John Roll, Lincoln's neighbor from Springfield, Ill., who wrote the Lincoln family in Washington, reporting that the "poor yellow dog was assinated [sic] just like his illustrious master."

Maybe it's just true that some dogs and masters take on each other's lives. John F. Kennedy's terrier, Charlie, had a notorious Cold War romance with the Soviet dog Nikita Khrushchev gave the president — resulting in a litter of four pups.

Of course, master politicians can use their pets effectively. Richard Nixon effectively used his dog Checkers to deflect accusations that he had received improper campaign gifts during his vice-presidential campaign in 1952.

"Someone in Texas had sent us a little black-and-white cocker spaniel puppy. My daughter had named it Checkers … and I said that regardless of what anyone said about it, I was going to keep it," Nixon said.

Unfortunately, the dog died before Nixon became president. Bye-Bye, Buddy

Attention scandal mongers and Clinton antagonists: The outgoing president did admit that he shared his bed with a dog while the first lady was out campaigning. And that dog was Buddy.

"I've got a friend," Clinton told White House reporters. "He sleeps with me when Hillary's not here. He's my true friend. We have a great time."

While Buddy will get to romp on the Clintons' new $1.7 million estate in Chappaqua, N.Y., and their $2.85 million mansion on Embassy Row in Washington, Socks the cat is getting the boot.

Socks and Buddy never got along well, and the kitty is now expected to be adopted by Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, who lives in the suburbs of Virginia.

The 9-year-old cat belonged to Chelsea, who found the black-and-white pussy under her piano teacher's porch in Little Rock. But her dorm at Stanford University has a no-pet policy.

Sunda Alp, spokeswoman for the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, says there was some concern over Socks' exile. But she's happy the cat won't have to move too far.

"If Socks and Buddy are not in the White House, they should go to a good house," Alp says. "But it should be in the D.C. area, because we heard they will be lobbying for treats."

Perhaps it's hard to explain the Clintons' choice. Certainly, once you share a bed with a kindred spirit, you create a lifetime bond. And to be sure, after so many years in the Washington, both Bill and Buddy can relate to feeling banished to the doghouse.

Buck Wolf is a producer at The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.