Tom Purcell: Doggone discourse better focused on real problems |
Tom Purcell, Columnist

Tom Purcell: Doggone discourse better focused on real problems

Tom Purcell
President Barack Obama and his dog Bo play in 2009.

Boy, is our political discourse going to the dogs.

The Washington Post reports Donald Trump is the first U.S. president in 100-plus years not to have a dog — though others, including Ronald Reagan, didn’t have dogs until their second terms.

During a February rally, reports The Post, Trump said “he doesn’t have a dog because the idea of getting one seems ‘phony’ to him.”

Using presidential pets to score political points is not without precedent. The Hill says “avid dog lover” Herbert Hoover was among the first to do so, while running for the nation’s highest office.

“Following campaign advice, with hopes of shaping his image into something warmer and more charismatic, he released a photograph of himself with his German Shepherd, King Tut,” says The Hill.

King Tut helped Hoover win the White House, but after he presided over the 1929 stock-market crash, Hoover was routed by FDR in the 1932 presidential election.

According to The Hill, some suggested Bill Clinton got Buddy, his beloved chocolate Labrador, to help his image at the peak of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Maybe so, but photos clearly show Clinton enjoyed Buddy’s company.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush had Millie, an English springer spaniel who famously birthed six White House puppies. Millie’s book was a huge seller. Their presidential son had a dog, too.

“President George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney, became a celebrity in his own right, appearing in more than 10 films while he was at the White House,” says The Hill.

The Obama family chose Portuguese water dogs Bo and Sunny, in part because Malia Obama required a hypoallergenic breed. The canines brought joy to the Obama family and were a delight at various White House events.

But no dog for the Trumps?

“Ever since President William McKinley’s administration — which began in 1897 — every single occupant of the White House, save for Trump, has had a dog at some point,” reports The Post.

Trump said he’d feel odd walking a dog on the White House lawn and just doesn’t have the time to do so.

And that resulted in a loud negative response in some quarters that the current occupant of the White House loathes all things canine.


“Instead of having dogs, which tend to crave attention and often are scene stealers where photography is involved,” Newsday columnist Anne McFeatters tells us, “Trump frequently calls women he disdains ‘a dog.’ ”

In a New York Times column, Timothy Egan writes: “We know that Donald Trump, the first president without a pet since James K. Polk, appears to hate dogs.”

The “Trump hates dogs” narrative got to such a point, it prompted fact-checking website Snopes to investigate whether Trump’s critics are barking up the wrong tree.

Snopes’ conclusion?

“The claim that he ‘hates dogs’ appears to be based on shaky logic … and relatively scant evidence. … It is also contradicted by photographic evidence and first-hand accounts of Trump’s cheerful demeanor around dogs.”

Like or dislike Trump — goodness knows he evokes powerful passions among supporters and opponents alike — it’s troubling to me that so much ink and bandwidth would be spent on so trivial a subject, when so many matters of larger importance are begging for our attention.

Just another sign that our political discourse is going to the dogs.

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at

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