A president’s best friend: Commanders in chief and their dogs

Updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 27, 2016

Story highlights

George W. Bush once accused Putin of "dissing" his dog, Barney

Franklin Roosevelt defended his dog Fala against Republican attacks

Washington CNN —  

The presidents’ furry friends have been the source of adoration, humor and drama during their time as first dogs in the White House, from President Barack Obama’s Portuguese water dogs Bo and Sunny to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s beloved Scottish terrier Fala.

In honor of National Dog Day, here are some memorable stories about American presidents and their dogs:

That time FDR defended dog Fala against Republican attacks

President Franklin Roosevelt’s August 1944 trip to Alaska was subject to Republican criticism – and Fala was in the center of the dispute.

Critics accused Roosevelt of leaving Fala behind in the Aleutian Islands during his six-day fishing trip and alleged that Roosevelt squandered $20 million by sending a Navy destroyer to retrieve him, a story Roosevelt vehemently denied.

In a September speech to the Teamsters Union, which became known as the “Fala speech,” Roosevelt blasted the critics for the “libelous statements” about his dog:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Roosevelt poses with his dog Fala and a friend granddaughter, Ruthie Bie, at Hill Top Cottage in Hyde Park New York, circa 1940s.
Fotosearch/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Roosevelt poses with his dog Fala and a friend granddaughter, Ruthie Bie, at Hill Top Cottage in Hyde Park New York, circa 1940s.

Roosevelt said Fala’s “Scotch soul was furious.”

“He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself – such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.”

That time Reagan gifted Rex to Nancy

On December 6, 1985, President Ronald Reagan gifted first lady Nancy Reagan with a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel named Rex, who joined the family’s Bouvier des Flandres dog Lucky at the White House.

Reagan presents first lady Nancy Reagan with Rex at their suite in a New York City hotel on December 6, 1985.
Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Reagan presents first lady Nancy Reagan with Rex at their suite in a New York City hotel on December 6, 1985.

Rex was an early Christmas present.

Ranch del Cielo: How Reagan lost his guns

The Reagans were known to be dog lovers and both Rex and Lucky were buried at Ranch del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California, where the Reagans lived after the presidency.

That time President Gerald Ford and Liberty got locked out of the White House

Former first lady Betty Ford writes about the time Ford took their golden retriever Liberty out at 3 a.m. and got locked out of the White House:

Ford sits with his daughter Susan on the floor of the White House's Great Hall, watching their pet golden retriever Liberty, circa 1978.
Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Ford sits with his daughter Susan on the floor of the White House's Great Hall, watching their pet golden retriever Liberty, circa 1978.

“They got to the second floor, and the door to the hall was locked. You can get out, but you can’t get back in. They went up again, to the third floor. Also locked. And there they were, a president and his dog, wandering around in a stairwell in the wee small hours of the morning, not able to get back to bed. Finally, they came all the way down again, and by that time, the Secret Service had been alerted, and somebody got the elevator started,” Ford writes in her memoir, “The Times of My Life.”

That time George W. Bush accused Putin of ‘dissing’ his dog, Barney

Former President George W. Bush told NBC in April 2014 that Russian President Vladimir Putin “dissed” his Sottish terrier Barney when they met.

Bush holds up his dog Barney upon his arrival at the South Lawn of the White House on February 3, 2002.
Getty Images
Bush holds up his dog Barney upon his arrival at the South Lawn of the White House on February 3, 2002.

Bush, who was unveiling a collection of his paintings, which depicted both Putin and Barney, said Putin’s treatment of Barney gave him insight into the Russian leader’s character.

“Our dear dog Barney – who has a special spot in my heart – I introduced him to Putin. Putin kind of dissed him,” Bush told his daughter, Jenna Hager Bush, on the “Today” show. “‘You call that a dog?’ A year later, your mom and I go to visit Vladimir at his Dacha outside of Moscow and he says, ‘Would you like to meet my dog?’ Out bounds this huge hound, obviously much bigger than a Scottish terrier. And Putin looks at me and says, ‘Bigger, stronger and faster than Barney.’”

Barney passed away in 2013 after a battle with lymphoma.

That time Sunny knocked over a little girl at the White House

The Obama’s newest Portuguese water dog, Sunny, couldn’t control her excitement at a 2013 Christmas party for military families at the White House.

00:54 - Source: CNN
First dog Sunny overwhelms little girl

The energetic puppy jumped up to greet little Ashtyn Gardner of Mobile, Alabama, causing her to step back and take a tumble.

Sunny was quickly pulled back by first lady Michelle Obama, and no one was injured, though images of the incident quickly spread on social media at the time.