Sunny Obama, the new White House puppy, in charts

August 20, 2013
sunny-the-dog
Sunny debut: a collective "awwwww." (Pete Souza / White House)

 

On Monday night, the White House announced the addition of a new and decidedly adorable resident: puppy-in-chief Sunny Obama. Sunny will provide pooch-in-chief Bo with the "dog interaction" that first lady Michelle Obama has told reporters he was lacking.

For probably most Americans, this is a great opportunity to look at some puppy pictures. Here at Wonkblog, though, we looked at puppy pictures and looked up some charts about pet ownership in America and in the White House in particular. How much fun is that?! Here's what we found.

Sorry, Sunny and Bo: Fish are the most popular pets in America.

This seems like an unfair battle, given that it's a bit easier to own a dozen fish than a dozen dogs. Even if we take fish out of the game, dogs still aren't the most-owned pets. That honor goes to cats, which Americans owned 95.6 million of in 2013, compared with the 83.3 dogs owned in the same year.

Dogs are still a popular choice at the White House, though. 


The late cat-in-chief Socks Clinton at the pawdium. (Source: The White House)

If you go back about 50 years until Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, there have been 20 dogs in the White House and just three cats, which belonged to Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford. Going back even further, though, the story changes...

Sunny's White House predecessors include a hippo.


This hippo seems to yearn for life in a presidential pond. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)

Presidential pets have gotten decidedly more mundane in recent years. Calvin Coolidge, according to the Presidential Pets Museum, "literally had a zoo at the White House."

Most famous and beloved was the white collie, purchased from Thomas and Olive shover who owned "Shomont White Collies". They also entertained and cared for: Peter Pan, a Terrier, Paul Pry, an Airedale, that was originally named Laddie Buck. and Rob Roy, a white Collie, originally named Oshkosh. Also popular was Calamity Jane, a Shetland Sheepdog. Tiny Tim, a Chow, Blackberry, also a Chow, and Ruby Rough, a brown Collie. They also had Boston Beans, a bulldog, King Kole, a police dog, Bessie, a yellow collie, Palo Alto, a bird dog, and Nip and Tuck, canaries. Snowflake, was also a white canary and Old Bill was a thrush. Enoch, was a goose and they had a Mockingbird belonging to Mrs. Grace Coolidge. Finally there was Tiger, an alley cat, Blacky, another cat and Rebecca and Horace, raccoons. We must not forget Ebenezer, the donkey and Smokey, a bobcat. Given to them by dignitaries from other countries there was also: lion cubs, wallaby, a pigmy hippo, and a bear.

Teddy Roosevelt may be the one president who can rival Coolidge's menagerie. He had, per Presidential Pets Museum again, a "lion, hyena, wildcat, coyote, five bears, two parrots, zebra, barn owl, snakes, lizards, rats, roosters, [and a] raccoon."

President James Garfield may have had the best-named pet: a very large dog named Veto.

The average dog owner spends $1,649 on care for their pet. 

Sunny and Bo Obama, the most adorable deficit-drivers ever? This data comes from the American Pet Products Association.

Dog ownership comes with significant health benefits.


Who needs Obamacare? Lyndon B. Johnson just relied on his beagles. (Source: The White House)

Researchers have linked dog ownership to everything from allergy resistance to a more active social life. Mental Floss has a great rundown of the various benefits of having a pup at your side.

Is Sunny a sign of bad times to come?

An article published last year in the journal Political Science and Politics found that presidential dogs tend to get trotted out, and grab more headlines, in times of national hardship. And the authors have a chart to prove it.


“We surmise that diversionary pets are a political liability when their frolicking on the White House lawn in hard times might cue the public that not everyone in the country is suffering equally and that being president is not a full-time job,” the authors conclude.

But there are significant limitations to this study, which you can read more about here.

 

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Lydia DePillis · August 20, 2013