Ideal for intimidating political opponents, keeping you calm when on the brink of war and, of course, adding the charisma-boosting factor, too… Susan Hope goes for walkies down the corridors of power with history’s top dogs.
John F Kennedy
A huge dog fan, the US president had nine during his time in the White House. When the 1962 Cuban missile crisis kicked off, it was his favourite, a welsh terrier called Charlie (far right), that Kennedy called to the hectic ‘war room’ to help him relax. When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave Kennedy’s daughter Caroline a puppy, because of political tensions at the time, Pushinka – as the dog was named – had to be checked for listening devices before being allowed to move into the White House.
He may have been famous for his bulldog spirit but Churchill had a soft spot for poodles. A few months after his beloved pet Rufus died in 1947, killed by a bus during a Conservative party conference in Brighton, the former prime minister was given another french miniature poodle, which he named Rufus II (above). The dog ate in the dining room at Chartwell, Churchill’s Kent home, along with the rest of the family, and no one was allowed to start until the butler had served Rufus’s meal. In fact, Churchill was so conscious of his pet’s wellbeing that once, while watching the film Oliver Twist with Rufus, during the scene when Bill Sikes is about to drown his dog Bullseye, Churchill covered Rufus’s eyes, saying, ‘Don’t look now, dear. I’ll tell you about it afterwards.’
His love of dogs is well documented, so it is perhaps no surprise that, in 2007, when Russian President Putin met German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his Sochi residence, his large black labrador Konni joined them. Merkel, however, who has a fear of dogs since being bitten by one in the 1990s, looked decidedly uncomfortable. Later, Putin denied rumours that he had used his pooch to intimidate her. Konni died in 2014 but Putin owns several other dogs including a sarplaninac puppy called Pasha given to him in January by Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic.
After promising his daughters Malia and Sasha that they would get a dog after the election, US President Barack Obama made good his pledge when Bo (above right) joined the family at the White House in 2009, followed by Sunny in 2013. The portuguese water dogs became so in demand with the press that, like the president, they were given their own schedules. In her recent memoir, Michelle Obama revealed that the dogs were like stand-ins for their daughters. ‘Knowing that Malia and Sasha were off-limits, the White House communications teams began requesting the dogs for official appearances,’ says Michelle. ‘They made excellent ambassadors, impervious to criticism and unaware of their own fame.’
The US president’s dog Lucky arrived at the White House in 1984. According to first lady Nancy, Lucky grew from a ‘ball of fluff’ to ‘the size of a pony’. The pooch was a bouvier des flandres, a powerful breed, and there are many pictures of Reagan walking Lucky – or rather being dragged along after him – including one with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Lucky (named by Nancy in honour of her mother, Edith Luckett ‘Lucky’ Davis) later went to live at the Reagans’ ranch in California.
George W Bush
The US president and first lady Laura owned scottish terriers Barney and Miss Beazley. According to their daughter Jenna, Barney, who died in 2013, was ‘a real jerk’. She said, ‘He didn’t like strangers and he actually bit one of my dad’s friends – not once, but twice.’ When President Putin met Barney, Bush got the distinct feeling that the Russian wasn’t impressed. A year later in Moscow, this suspicion was confirmed when, Bush says, ‘Putin introduced me to his dog – a huge hound, comes bounding across the lawn – and he says, “Bigger, stronger and faster than Barney.”’
The French president and his wife got their labrador-griffon from an animal shelter in 2017. Following the Central Canine Society of France’s rules that pedigree dogs born in 2017 should have a name starting with ‘N’, they called him Nemo. The dog hit the news later that year when he was filmed urinating on a fireplace in the Elysée palace during a government meeting.
The former British prime minister’s golden labrador Paddy was unfairly blamed for tripping and almost drowning his master while on holiday in the Scilly Isles in 1973. Wilson fell overboard while trying to get out of his dinghy and had to be rescued by passers-by.