President Harry S. Truman was once quoted as saying, “If you want a friend in Washington (D.C.), get a dog.” While Truman didn’t keep a dog when he was in the White House, he was in the minority, as most U.S. presidents made sure to have at least one tail-wagging friend during their time in office. National Dogs in Politics Day, celebrated each year on September 23, pays tribute to all presidential pooches and other political canines throughout U.S. history.
Keep reading to learn why we celebrate dogs in politics on this date, ideas for how to celebrate, and facts about some of the most well-known dogs in politics.
The History of National Dogs in Politics Day
National Dogs in Politics Day is celebrated on September 23 because of a specific event that took place on this date in 1952. On September 23, 1952, Richard Nixon, then a vice-presidential candidate, sat in front of television cameras to make a speech. At the time, he was accused of misusing campaign funds and was in danger of being dropped from the ticket. Television was still a new way for politicians to communicate, and 60 million people turned in to watch Nixon speak.
During this speech, Nixon told a story about his family dog, Checkers. This story was widely credited with helping Nixon appear more relatable and honest to the American people. Nicknamed the “Checkers speech,” Nixon’s talk helped him keep his political standing.
In honor of Checkers essentially saving Nixon’s political career (however temporary it was,) September 23 became National Dogs in Politics Day.
How to Celebrate National Dogs in Politics Day
To celebrate National Dogs in Politics Day, why not take the time to learn about some famous dogs in politics? We’ll cover a few in the next section, but the White House has a long history of resident dogs and other pets, beginning with our first president, George Washington.
You might also consider reading or watching the speech that started it all, Nixon’s “Checkers speech.” Several presidential pups, such as George H.W. Bush’s dog Millie, also feature in or “wrote” their own books. And, of course, don’t neglect the tried-and-true social media post. Get creative by dressing your dog up like a famous politician and snap some photos for your favorite social site.
Famous Dogs in Politics
The current First Dog of the United States, Commander, is a young German Shepherd gifted to President Joe Biden by family members on his 79th birthday. President Biden had two German Shepherds when he first entered the White House: Major and Champ. Champ passed away in 2021 at the age of 13, while Major did not adjust well to the stress of White House life and was given a fresh start with family friends.
2. Sunny & Bo
Before he was first elected, President Obama promised his daughters a dog, win or lose. In 2009, Portuguese Water Dog Bo moved into the White House. The popular dog was widely photographed, took PetSmart trips in the presidential motorcade, snoozed in the Oval Office, and earned a mention in the President’s victory speech after he was re-elected. Sunny, another Portuguese Water Dog, joined the family in 2013.
President Clinton entered the White House dog-free but quickly found himself in need of both a friend and an image rehab as he battled political scandal. Hoping to improve how the American people viewed him, Clinton brought a chocolate Lab puppy, Buddy, to live in the White House, joining resident cat, Socks. Both Socks and Buddy were extremely popular, and Hilary Clinton published a book with a collection of letters written by children to the two pets.
President George H.W. Bush was a Springer Spaniel fan, and Millie was his most famous dog. She “wrote” a book called “Millie’s Book” that became a New York Times bestseller in 1990.
President Gerald Ford owned a Golden Retriever named Liberty when he lived in the White House. As a gift from his daughter, Liberty is famous for giving birth to a litter of nine puppies during her time in the White House.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was famous for many things, including being a four-term president and his Scottish Terrier Fala. Frequently featured in photos with FDR, she also earned a mention in a speech he gave in 1944. Fala outlived her presidential owner but was cared for by his surviving wife, Eleanor.
Politicians are rarely the most popular people, and public opinion can swing wildly even for the more well-liked. It’s no wonder that many turn to dogs to provide unconditional support and make them appear more relatable. On September 23, we recognize and celebrate National Dogs in Politics Day to commemorate all the dogs who’ve wagged their way through the White House and Washington, D.C.