Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) LOTHIAN, Md. - When invited to the White House some years ago to groom Lucky, the Reagan family's dog, Claire McLean deliberately cut off a little too much of Lucky's coarse dark hair.
McLean, a well-known breeder in the area, bagged the hair, stuffed it into her purse and marched boldly past the Secret Service out onto Pennsylvania Avenue.
"That was the happiest day of my life," she said recently.
And so the Presidential Pet Museum was born. Or the idea of it, at least. The year was 1985.
McLean, now 70, donated 10 locks of Lucky's hair to the American Bouvier des Flandres Association - Lucky's breed - for its 1985 fund-raising auction. The locks fetched about $40 each. The rest McLean gave to her mother, Dorothy, who sketched a picture of Lucky and pasted his hair onto it.
That drawing, the first in a collection of presidential pet memorabilia that McLean accumulated over the next 18 years, now hangs prominently in one of Washington's most obscure and exclusive museums.
As McLean explained recently: "It's a hodgepodge, ragtag, humble little museum that I've been pouring my life into."
Actually, it's one narrow room at McLean's kennel about 20 miles southeast of the White House. About 300 by-appointment-only visitors a year brave her dogs and tour it.
There are photos of Franklin D. Roosevelt's little dog Fala, a Scottish terrier, who was privy to more secrets than any World War II general, and photos of the Kennedy family on a shingled porch in Hyannis Port, Mass., with Pushinka, a Russian mixed breed, and Charlie, a Welsh terrier, and their four pups, Streaker, Blackie, White Tips and Butterfly. Then there are Lyndon Johnson's beagles, Him and Her, whom Johnson liked to hoist by the ears.
In McLean's estimation, Johnson and his beagles are the presidential pet team that most resembled one another. Her view of the Clintons and the dog-cat team of Buddy and Socks is equally tart: "They may have soiled the rug, but they didn't soil the Oval Office."
With four 19th-century exceptions, she said, pets have been an accessory to the presidency ever since the Father of his Country and Martha Washington kept a green parrot. The deep obscurity of the four presidents who kept no pets - James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Chester A. Arthur, by McLean's tally - suggests that pet ownership might be a good litmus test for voters.
Most presidents seem to have agreed, at least literally, with Harry S Truman: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Presidential dogs, purebreds mostly, have outnumbered cats as pets better than 2 to 1, said McLean, although the figures might not include 19th-century White House kitchen mousers.
"Social class" explains the presidents' preference for dogs, she said. "Purebred dogs were bought," and so taken seriously as pets. "Cats were usually strays."
Then there were the exotic pets, often gifts of visiting foreign potentates. John Quincy Adams kept an alligator in the White House for a while, according to McLean. Martin Van Buren kept tiger cubs; Calvin Coolidge, a wallaby. Theodore Roosevelt, over the top in so many respects, had a menagerie of 35 pets, including at one time or another snakes, badgers, a coyote, a wildcat and a hyena.
Out on the fringe in another way was Andrew Johnson. He left flour out at night in his White House bedroom for a family of mice.
Two presidents - Zachary Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant - raced some of their horses.
While it stretches the definition of pets a bit, many presidents drank fresh milk from cows kept on the White House grounds. William Howard Taft's (1909-13) Pauline was the last of them. His successor, Woodrow Wilson, grazed sheep on the lawn, including a tobacco-chewing ram named Old Ike.
Less docile was Benjamin Harrison's goat, Old Whiskers. Once, when the goat took off down Pennsylvania Avenue while pulling a cart with the president's grandchildren aboard, Harrison chased down Old Whiskers himself.
Asked what distinction the current Bush family's English springer spaniel, Spot, Scottish terrier, Barney, or cat, India (aka "Willie"), might have, McLean thought for a second.
Spot is the daughter of Millie, the first President Bush's dog, McLean noted. That makes her the only second-generation pet of a second-generation president in U.S. history.
The Presidential Pet Museum is at 1102 Wrighton Rd. in Lothian, Md., outside Washington. It's open for free, appointment-only tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, April through November. Call 410-741-0904 or visit www.presidentialpetmuseum.com for more information.
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