Is the upcoming presidential election going to the dogs?
The support of dogs and their owners may be crucial to the candidates, given that every president since Warren G. Harding has owned a dog; President Obama acquired Portuguese Water Dog Bo after entering the White House.
Yet a recent study by George Washington University professors claims Bo may prove more of a liability than an asset for Obama. Dog ownership can help presidents in times of war and scandal, the study concluded, but can hurt during an economic crisis, when pictures of the president frolicking with his dog suggests that he has time and money to devote to frivolous things.
GOP candidate Mitt Romney faces his own dog-connected liability:a family pet who traveled on vacation tied to the roof of Romney's station wagon. A Facebook campaign called Dogs Against Romney reached 100,000 followers last week.
The presidential dog fixation doesn't end when chief executives leave office. Recent reports claim that former President George W. Bush spends all day, every day painting pictures of dogs.
Dogs and presidents share a long and, you'll pardon the expression, checkered history (Checkers was a dog owned by then-Vice President Richard Nixon and immortalized in his speech of the same name), stretching all the way back to George Washington. The evidence:
• Twenty-five presidents, starting with Washington, have owned dogs, with some of them close to being dog hoarders. Washington had 10 dogs and Herbert Hoover as well as John F. Kennedy each owned nine, but the record for most dogs in the White House is held by Calvin Coolidge, with an even dozen.
• While Abraham Lincoln's ill-fated dog (more on that below) bore the standard issue name Fido, other presidents had much more adventurous taste in dog names. Among the wackiest choices: Washington's Sweetlips and Drunkard, John Adams' Satan, Rutherford B. Hayes' Grim, James Garfield's Veto, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's President.
• Laddie Boy, an Airedale Terrier owned by Warren G. Harding, was the nation's first celebrity dog, appearing regularly on the front pages of major newspapers and enjoying his own seat at cabinet meetings. A lifesize sculpture of Laddie Boy, owned by the Smithsonian Museum, is made from 19,000 pennies donated by newsboys.
• Other White House dog art owned by an institution called The Presidential Pet Museum includes portraits of George W. Bush's Barney and Miss Beazley and the Ronald Reagans' Lucky – made from their own hair.
• Dogs received by presidents as gifts include Obama's Bo, a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy; John F. Kennedy's Pushinka, Fluffy in Russian, received from Nikita Kruschev: Gerald Ford's Lucky, given by White House photographer David Hume Kennerly: and Lyndon B. Johnson's dog J. Edgar, named after its donor J. Edgar Hoover. But not all gift dogs have been successes. Grits, given to Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy by a teacher, had to be returned after it snapped at several White House visitors.
• Biting and other violence has, well, dogged some White House pooches. Barney bit a journalist, while Teddy Roosevelt's bull terrier Pete literally tore the pants off the French ambassador, nearly causing an international incident. Even more shocking, Thomas Jefferson once hanged a dog for chasing his sheep, and Abraham Lincoln's dog Fido was stabbed to death in the street after putting his muddy paws on a drunk.
• George W. Bush, the 43rd President and son of 41st president George Bush, owned an English Springer Spaniel named Spot, daughter of the elder Bush's dog Millie, making Spot the only second generation White House dog ever.
• Besides being a dog, Millie Bush was also an author whose autobiography sold more copies than the first Bush's own.
• Holiday decorations featuring the likeness of the Obamas' dog Bo include cookies baked by the White House pastry chef, a confection made from licorice and marshmallows, and a sculpture fashioned from plastic garbage bags.