Monday, October 8, 2012
Dallas writer’s Pets at the White House offers nonpartisan glimpse into the lives of presidential pooches
The coffee table book features photos and charming anecdotes about First Pets.
DALLAS “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” Harry S. Truman opined.
That helps explain why so many pooches have hung up their leashes at the White House. Since 1960, every president and his family have owned at least one dog. Some also enjoyed the company of cats, horses, and other animal friends.
Dallas native Jennifer Boswell Pickens has searched presidential library archives to find the best photos of pets and their presidents, from the Kennedys to the Obamas. “We stopped counting after looking at 1,000 shots,” Pickens said in a recent interview.
The fruit of her efforts is a charming and hefty coffee table book graced with hundreds of well-chosen images and readable, entertaining anecdotes.
“In an election season, everybody appreciates seeing these nonpartisan glimpses of presidents’ human side,” Pickens said.
One of her two favorites is George H.W. Bush playing on the White House lawn with Millie and her pups, each a cookie-cutter miniature of its mom.
Pickens’ other favorite is more pensive — a two-page spread of Gerald Ford holding Liberty’s paws as the two smile at each other. The photo was taken soon after a campaign-strategy meeting in which Ford was told that if he pardoned Nixon, Ford could not expect to be re-elected.
Noncanine pets also are well-represented: Caroline Kennedy and her pony, Macaroni; Amy Carter and her cat, Misty; the thank-you card that the Clintons’ cat, Socks, sent to admirers who wrote to him.
Pickens’ Fife & Drum Press (with offices in Dallas and presses in Canada) restored some of the older photos. Artful texturing allows those of us of a certain age to experience these grainy images as a nostalgic, almost dreamlike trip back in time.
Pets at the White House is sprinkled with fun bits. One such is a memo from the first President Bush, headed “THIS IS AN ALL-POINTS BULLETIN FROM THE PRESIDENT.” It forbids staffers to feed the president’s dog Ranger, one of Millie’s offspring who was battling that most American malady, obesity.
Pickens credits her upbringing in Dallas with her own love of animals. “I was a little spoiled that way,” she said. “My mother indulged us when we wanted more pets. We even rescued a barn owl.” And no, says Pickens, chuckling, she isn’t related to that Pickens.
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