ARTS & CULTURE
07/02/2014 12:00 am ET Updated Oct 06, 2014
PRESENTED BY PETSMART

Behind Every Great Achievement, There's An Impossibly Cute Pet

Nixon Foundation

Sure, our pets are downright adorable but something we don't often think about is the potential for power that our little furballs possess. Our fuzzy friends inspire us to be better people, and throughout history they've also inspired some of America's greats to make a difference. From politics to rock and roll, our beloved critters have nestled their way into the hearts and homes of trailblazers as well as into chart-topping songs, masterpieces of art and have even influenced political policy.

We've partnered with PetSmart to round-up some of the pets that have inspired major achievements and left their marks...er...paws on history.

  • Frida Kahlo's Dog (and Monkeys and Birds, too)
    Frida Kahlo Corporation
    Painter Frida Kahlo's home, Casa Azul, was filled with exotic pets with creative names -- Fulang Chang, a.k.a. Bonito, an Amazon parrot (who would do tricks for butter), Granizo, a fawn, and Gertrudis Caca Blanca, an eagle. She also kept monkeys, parakeets, macaws, hens and sparrows and an Xoloitzcuintle (a Mexican hairless dog) named Mr Xoloti. Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self portraits which feature her beloved pets.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe's Chow Chows Bo and Chia
    Getty Images
    When modernist painter, Georgia O'Keeffe wasn't painting, she was getting inspiration by taking walks through the rocky desert of New Mexico with her dogs, Bo and Chia (two of six Chow Chow breed pups she'd eventually own). During an interview with The Albuquerque Tribune in 1973, O'Keeffe said, "It seems to be my mission in life to wait on a dog." While O'Keeffe's Chow Chows inspired her, she and her dogs, in turn, inspired artist Marisol Escobar to create this sculpture "Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe."
  • President Woodrow Wilson's Sheep
    Library of Congress
    Woodrow Wilson had a tobacco-chewing ram, Old Ike, and a herd of as many as 48 sheep that grazed on the White House lawn. Wilson's pet sheep also served a very important P.R. function. They operated as temporary lawn mowers while the White House gardeners fought in World War I and their wool raised a reported $52,823 for the Red Cross. This combined with their other cost-cutting and fundraising efforts, helped bolster the image of the Wilsons as a model American family supporting the war.
  • Norah Jones' Poodle Ralph
    Getty Images
    Sometimes a pet is better than a boyfriend. "You don't lie and you don't cheat, and you don't have any baggage tied to your four feet," singer Norah Jones croons in "Man of the Hour" her 2009 ode to her poodle Ralph. Ralph not only won Norah's heart, but also his place in music history.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's Cat Cattarina
    National Park Service
    Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story "The Black Cat" starts out very similar to his own relationship with his tortoiseshell cat, Cattarina. "Pluto...was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house." The similarities to Poe's own real-life relationship with his cat and the fictional cat Pluto end there. In the story, a twist has the narrator gouging the cat's eye with a pen-knife, something Poe would never do. In fact, Poe loved his cat and Cattarina was so devoted to Poe, that she would get depressed whenever he traveled. And, just two weeks after Poe died, Cattarina passed, too.
  • Paul McCartney's Dog Martha
    Getty Images
    "Martha my dear you have always been my inspiration." is one of the last lines in Paul McCartney's 1968 song "Martha My Dear." While some believed it is actually about his long-time interest Jane Asher, he later revealed that the true inspiration was his Old English sheepdog, Martha. "Whereas it would appear to anybody else to be a song to a girl called Martha, it's actually a dog, and our relationship was platonic, believe me," he said.
  • John Steinbeck's Dog Charley
    Getty
    A Nobel Prize winning canine? Well, kind of. Several months after publishing his New York Times bestselling travelogue about a road trip with his French poodle, "Travels With Charley: In Search of America," Steinbeck was honored with the prestigious award. Funny enough, the poodle actually almost didn't make the trip--taking him was a last minute decision. It's a good thing he did, Charley served as an important sounding board that Steinbeck used to explore his private thoughts and internal debates and was a great ice-breaker. “A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers," he wrote. "Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree of a dog is that?'" According to The Atlantic Charley is "one of the most civilized and attractive dogs in literature."
  • President Nixon's Dog Checkers
    President Nixon's adorable dog "Checkers" (pictured right) has become somewhat of a political legend. The speech that Nixon gave on September 23, 1952 to defend himself against accusations of improprieties, became known as the "Checkers Speech" because of a particularly memorable line that "regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it," it being a black-and-white Cocker Spaniel gifted to his family and named "Checkers" by his children. The speech was heard by 60 million people and has been heralded as one of the most important public addresses. Today, any emotional speech by a politician is still referred to as a "Checkers Speech."
  • Picasso's Dogs Lump and Perro
    Getty
    Pablo Picasso was canine crazy and had almost as many dogs as he had lovers. "Perro" the Dalmation made his way into a few of Picasso's late paintings. And homage was paid to "Lump," a funny little dachshund in the artists "Las Meninas" series, reinterpretations of Velázquez’s masterpiece “Las Meninas" which features a stately hound. Picasso once said, ‘Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s somebody else.’ The dog died one week before Picasso.
  • John Grogan's Dog Marley
    Getty Images
    Writer John Grogan's dog, Marley, became the focus of many of his newspaper columns and later, a New York Times bestselling autobiography, "Marley and Me" about the thirteen years he and his family spent with the dog. The book was ultimately adapted into a movie in 2008 by the same name, setting a record for the most ticket sales on Christmas Day. When asked what he thinks Marley's reaction to the book would be, Grogan answered on his website, "I'm pretty sure he would have eaten the manuscript by now. And left no trace."

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