Have You Heard – The Political Pets Edition

Prior to coming to Portland State I received a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Washington. Imagine, if you will, what this current political climate is like for me. I could say something cliché like “oh, it’s like catnip!” but honestly: what the hell is going on? Everything is a muddle.

Anyway, I was wondering if you knew about the history of political pets. Speaking of catnip, appropriately, the history of pets in the White House is full of illustrious pets, some with horrid names—looking at you, Amy Carter—some that are amazing and great and worthy of every memory (Socks!) and others who were famous for their leap into the public limelight, like Fala the dog.

You don’t know about the famous Fala Speech? In 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was accused of spending an exorbitant sum to ferry Fala around Alaska on a Navy ship. Accusing Republicans of inflaming Fala’s “Scotch soul”—Fala was a Scottish terrier—FDR managed to turn their accusations into an indictment of the lack of seriousness in Republican ranks.

Sometime later, Richard Nixon, then a senator, gave the Checkers speech to similar acclaim, a speech that is often credited with helping ensure his election as Vice President in 1952 and creating a legacy that ultimately swept him to the presidency. His predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, also contributed to this, his poor dog Him (actual name) being hoisted by his ears by the famously impolitic president.

Beyond our borders, famous dogs and cats have changed political fortunes. For example, did you hear about how Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan, used her cats Think Think and Ah Tsai for publicity, gaining support broadly for the tender image they provided her campaign? In the United Kingdom, corgis have long been used for similar purposes with the first corgi, Dookie, arriving during the reign of George VI.

Closer to home, somewhat, Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden both happily opened their offices to dogs, with Ranger the Pug holding court in Wyden’s DC office, and Juneau and Baci in Merkley’s. That leads me to a question: Would you vote for or against a politician that refused to have pets for no reason?

Finally, I myself have met a famous cat! This one was named Alexander, or Alex for short, and he had a big role in politics in Cobb County, Georgia as a lobbyist, according to his owner.