Commander in White House doghouse
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Commander in White House doghouse

It was Harry Truman who reportedly advised would-be presidents: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Perhaps he should have added "as long as it doesn't bite".

Which brings us to the most important news of the week. President Joe Biden's family dog Commander has bitten yet another Secret Service agent at the White House. The two-year-old German Shepherd seems to have acquired a taste for the security people as this is the 11th occasion in two years Commander has attacked an agent either at the White House or the family home.

In an attempt to explain the dog's aggressive behaviour a spokesperson noted "the White House can be a stressful environment for family pets." It seems Commander simply had a "ruff day".

So why have a canine in the White House? America is a nation of dog lovers and a furry thing with a wet nose running around the grounds usually goes down quite well among the general public. Former presidents were well aware a playful tickle of their dog's ears on the lawn during a photo-op was worth far more votes than any campaign speech.

To be fair to Commander, the previous "First Dog" Major, was expelled from the White House after nibbling too many Secret Service bottoms.

No doubt observing these incidents with some interest is the Bidens' tabby cat, Willow. One hopes Willow has lined up a good escape route to the nearest tree.

Pit bull Pete

Commander is not the first White House dog to take a nip out of someone. Perhaps the most notorious was Theodore Roosevelt's fearsome-looking Pit Bull Terrier called Pete. The hound ended up in disgrace after causing a diplomatic incident when at a function he chased the French ambassador down a White House corridor before biting the envoy's backside and ripping his trousers to shreds. The incident prompted much mirth amongst other guests.

For his indiscretions poor old Pete was sent into exile on Long Island.

Good boy

Over the years the "First Dog" has become the friend and confidant of many presidents when no one else will listen. One wonders how many critical decisions have been made at the White House after a presidential dog gave a friendly lick, wagged its tail or barked at an appropriate time.

Some dogs have enjoyed considerable status at the White House. Warren G Harding was so attached to his smart Airedale called Laddie Boy that the hound even had its own cabinet chair. To the dog's credit it slept through most of the proceedings.

Franklin D Roosevelt loved his Scottish terrier so much they shared the same bed. Every morning on FDR's breakfast tray along with the coffee and poached eggs the butler added a large juicy bone.

Leaping Liberty

President Gerald Ford made good use of his Golden Retriever named Liberty which would sit in a corner during meetings. If the president wanted to terminate a discussion that was getting awkward or going on too long he gave a discreet sign to the dog which would then enthusiastically leap all over the guests, bringing an abrupt end to the proceedings.

Actually my dog does that to visitors without requiring a signal.

Then there was Lyndon Baines Johnson, owner of two Beagles with the inspirational names, Him and Her. LBJ suffered a lot of flak over his unfortunate habit of holding the dogs by their ears and laughing when they yelped in fright. Not exactly a vote-getter.

Moos news

White House pets of course don't have to be canines. Calvin Coolidge had a pygmy hippopotamus while both Herbert Hoover and John Quincy Adams preferred alligators.

President William Taft had a pet cow called Pauline, believed to be the last cow resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Pauline served a practical purpose, giving the first family a regular supply of fresh milk which was scarce in those times. She was also known for her plaintive, but melodic mooing.

'Russian' heartthrob

It was sad to hear Scottish actor David McCullum passed away at the age of 90. I was a teenager when he became popular through the Man From U.N.C.L.E television spy series in the mid-60s.

Initially McCullum was in a supporting role to Robert Vaughn who played his partner, splendidly named Napoleon Solo. However McCullum quickly caught the eye and his Russian spy character Illya Koryakin became a household name. There was even a silly pop song about him entitled Love Ya Illya.

McCullum's combination of blond-grey hair with a Beatle-style fringe and blue eyes made him an instant hit among the ladies. Well, my mum liked him.

Playing a Russian spy was quite a gamble at the height of the Cold War and it was not sure how audiences would react. But McCullum handled the part really well making himself an enigmatic figure, adding to the mystique.

According to the MGM studio, at that time McCullum received more fan mail than any other performer, including Elvis Presley.

A fine state of affairs

For some reason every episode of U.N.C.L.E had "Affair" in the title. Some were rather quirky like The Fiddlesticks Affair, The Abominable Snowman Affair and The Nowhere Affair which alas is not set in Nakhon Nowhere but in Nevada.

Perhaps the most intriguing was The Bow-Wow Affair. It is tempting to think it involved a rogue hound at the White House.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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