THE BLOG
02/21/2013 10:15 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2013

About First Dogs Barney & Bo

As a lover of animals, in general, and dogs, in particular, I took special note of the news stories in recent weeks about presidential pets Barney and Bo.

Sadly, the media coverage about Barney concerned his passing. The nation's First Dog during George W. Bush's presidency died Feb. 1, after losing his battle with lymphoma.

He was born Sept. 30, 2000 -- just five weeks before his master won the White House -- and he was one of the few administration' "officials" to serve through both terms with his president. Barney is survived by his niece, Miss Beasley, who was also part of the Bush White House family.

A feisty Scottish Terrier, Barney reportedly bit two people -- neither seriously hurt -- during his tenure. The second incident occurred two days after the 2008 presidential election, and I recall wondering at the time if Barney, a Republican First Dog, might have been in a bad mood because the Democrats had won back the White House.

But then, in commenting on his canine companion's passing, George Bush said that one of the best things about Barney was that he "never discussed politics" -- and was simply "always a faithful friend."

The coverage of current First Dog, Bo, has been of a happier nature. Like his predecessor, Barney, Bo has been a willing, and especially photogenic participant in Christmas holiday proceedings since arriving at The White House. His Portuguese water dog features give him a presidential persona.

Two days after his master's inauguration for a second term, Bo joined President Obama and the First Lady in surprising and thrilling guests who were on a guided tour of the White House. His friendly manner got him a full share of attention -- lots of pats and petting as he worked the line of visitors.

In today's world, in the midst of a communications revolution, we are more privy to the private lives of presidential pets than in earlier years. Still, even before there was the phenomenon of social media, and a 24/7 news cycle, stories about the animal friends of our presidents got out to a public eager to hear them.

Ever since the father of our country, our first president, George Washington, became a source for newspaper articles about dogs -- his hound dogs -- our presidents and their pets have given us memorable moments. Washington's story is unique, for it is about more than a family pet. George Washington is credited with creating an entirely new breed of dogs -- the American Foxhound.

Barney and Bo, as recent occupants of The White House, are names familiar to most Americans; but there are also other presidential pets from years past that, for a variety of reasons, have remained household names. Bill Clinton's Buddy. Nixon's Checkers. FDR's Fala. And Lincoln's Fido.

Of course, Lincoln's Fido was not -- technically speaking -- a presidential pet, in that he never lived in the White House. But his story is legendary, and should earn him high ranking on any list of the most interesting presidential pets.

Unlike Barney, who traveled with his president for vacations at the Bush family ranch in Texas, or Bo, who flew this past Christmas to Hawaii with the Obamas, Fido didn't get to take a long trip with his master.

Although he had been the Lincoln family pet for five years when Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the yellowish, floppy-eared dog of unknown ancestry never made it to Washington. President-elect Lincoln thought that Fido, who was terrified of loud noises, might not survive the long train ride from Springfield, Mo., to the nation's capital.

So Fido was given to neighbors with the proviso that his life be much the same as it had been with the Lincoln family. That meant Fido would remain an indoor dog, fed from the table and given run of the house.

Before Lincoln left Springfield, he had Fido's picture taken at a studio, and that photograph from 1860 is on display today at the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield. The picture is quite possibly the earliest record of a presidential pet being photographed.

Abraham Lincoln and the only dog he ever owned were never reunited. Less than a year after President Lincoln's life was cut short by an assassin, Fido was killed by a drunk.

Presidential pets are a warm and fuzzy part of American history. Though they sometimes seem like it, First Dogs, of course, are not human; but they do help to humanize their masters -- our presidents.

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