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Winning the pup-ular vote

First dogs affect White House image more than you'd think.

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Theodore Roosevelt had a virtual zoo in the White House, including six children. The kids had ponies, lizards, rats, squirrels, and even bears and a garter snake named Emily Spinach. Teddy also had a bull terrier, Pete, who was banished from the White House after he ripped the britches of the French ambassador. Given Teddy's pugnacious image, it's hard to imagine his dog doing anything else.

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Caroline Kennedy's dog, Pushinka, was a gift from Nikita Khrushchev and though no doubt had a most thorough exam to make sure the dog was not implanted with listening devices, may have also represented a bridge to the Soviet Union.

For their part, the Reagans accepted Lucky, a large sheepdog, as a gift from a March of Dimes poster child. Though Lucky surely helped promote that cause, he didn't do so well in the White House. He used to drag Mrs. Reagan around and also misbehaved on the White House carpets.

From George Washington's hounds to Calvin Coolidge's dog, Rob Roy, from Franklin Roosevelt's famous black Scottie named Fala to Gerald Ford's golden retriever named Liberty, presidential dogs have played an important part in the images of their owners.

Obama, perhaps picking up on this, has supposedly promised his daughters a dog when the campaign is over. The American Kennel Club has even gotten involved, helping decide what breed it should be. The AKC has narrowed the search down to bichon frisé, miniature schnauzer, poodle, or soft-coated wheaten terrier – a breed so obscure that it could not possibly create controversy.

Regardless of the publicity value of a presidential dog, there is one bottom line positive benefit in having a Fala, Spot, Buddy, Lucky, or whoever – when times get tough, when the economy goes sour, when international tensions are at a peak, a sympathetic, sloppy ear lick can do a world of good.

Joel M. Vance is a writer based in Missouri.