If you want a friend in Washington,” Harry S. Truman supposedly said, “get a dog.” Exactly so. From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s beloved terrier Fala, who is immortalized in bronze at the FDR Memorial in Washington, to George H.W. Bush’s English springer spaniel Millie, whose as-told-to book outsold her master’s autobiography, our commanders in chief have often found their most ardent supporters in the canine world.

And dogs, it seems, have found a loyal guardian in Alan Fausel, executive director of the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog in New York and curator of the “Presidential Pooches” pop-up (pup-up?) exhibit that set up house over Presidents’ Day weekend in the Watergate Hotel. It’s minutes to showtime on Feb. 14 as Fausel gingerly opens a 34-by-49-inch Airfloat box containing a dazzling portrait by Constance Coleman titled “Barney and Miss Beazley in the White House International Diplomat’s Reception Room.” In the painting, George W. Bush’s black Scottish terriers pose on a yellow wingback chair, a tongue poking sweetly out of one dog’s mouth. But don’t be fooled by this scene of pampered repose. As Fausel is quick to note, “Barney was notorious for biting reporters.”

Next out is “Millie on the South Lawn,” a showstopper by Christine Merrill depicting the elder Bush’s spaniel lounging like the idle rich on the White House grounds, a small red ball casually dismissed to the side.

Fausel moves quickly, now keying up a video of FDR’s “Fala Speech,” delivered in 1944 at a dinner for the Teamsters. Republicans had circulated a story claiming that Roosevelt had accidentally left his dog behind while visiting the Aleutian Islands and had sent a Navy destroyer, at a cost of $20 million, to fetch the pet. Fausel recites a quote in a lockjawed Thurston Howell impression of the late president: “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.”

As he arranges some Victorian dog collars in a plexiglass box, Fausel provides a running discourse — on working dogs of the 12th century (dachshunds were ideal badger hunters), on the misunderstood history of sled dogs (mushers are more sustainable than snow mobiles), and on celebrity taxidermy (Andy Warhol’s stuffed dog Cecil, a Great Dane, was a multi-ribbon dog show champion in the early 1920s) — transitioning from one topic to the next with, “Anyway, to make a long story endless. ...”

It’s hardly surprising that the executive director of a museum dedicated to dogs should know so much about them. Fausel oversees the museum’s 1,700 objects, which include a 30 million-year-old fossil of an early canine; the parachute used by Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier who flew combat missions as a mascot for a U.S. Air Force squadron during World War II; and interactive computer kiosks that employ facial recognition matching human faces to the breed they most resemble. “The millennials love that,” Fausel says, revealing that his face most resembles that of a French bulldog. “Depending on the light,” he qualifies. (Like everything else in New York, the museum is currently closed during the coronavirus pandemic.)

The 63-year-old is a dog owner himself, his “baby” a Welsh springer spaniel (“She is among the prettiest breeds of dogs,” he avers) that he and his wife, Kay, named Gemma. But a love of pooches didn’t lead directly to his current occupation. Fausel was a pre-med student at UCLA when, to bolster what he calls his “flagging” GPA, he took an art history class that set him on a different course. With a graduate degree from Stanford in 18th-century British art, he eventually landed at New York’s Doyle auction house. The dog thing happened after the auction house narrowly lost the Leonard Bernstein estate to a rival and Fausel, needing to drum up business, dreamed up a “Dogs in Art” sale after watching the Westminster dog show. He ran the sale for five years at Doyle’s and then at Bonhams, another auction house, until 2016. The dog museum sometimes purchased works from the sales, and when it relocated from St. Louis to Manhattan last year, it tapped Fausel as director.

He has big ambitions for the museum’s next acquisition. “I’m on a campaign to get Dubya to give me a painting done by his own hand,” he says of the former president, who has painted portraits of world leaders and American military veterans, as well as the occasional canine. Fausel pleaded his case with former energy secretary Rick Perry, who stopped by the museum in September (“What a great dog guy,” Fausel says) and posed for a picture with Fausel and a statue of World War I infantry mascot Sergeant Stubby, a terrier mutt and the most decorated canine in history.

Aside from his job at the dog museum, Fausel has taught a course on art valuation at New York University and appears regularly on TV’s “Antiques Roadshow.” He declines to appraise any of the art he has brought to the Watergate but will allow that while at Doyle in 2005, he organized the sale, for $590,000, of a pair of turn-of-the-20th-century Cassius Marcellus Coolidge paintings of dogs playing poker.

By the time 11 a.m. rolls around, Fausel is ready to greet his first arrivals. Sherrie Biernacki and Carol Jackson are self-described “retired ladies who lunch” from upper Montgomery County who read about the event on, they think, Facebook. The duo makes a beeline for a table of black binders — American Kennel Club registries of purebred dog pedigrees in the United States. It’s a doggy “Who’s Who” and includes the registration of pets owned by Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama.

“You know you’re a Kennel Club junkie when you get lost in old registration books,” Biernacki says. She and Jackson both own Welsh corgis and belong to the Catoctin Kennel Club and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of Potomac. For a moment, though, the women lose interest in their binders. On the screen above the table, up comes Richard Nixon’s 1952 Checkers speech, the then-senator’s attempt to explain the purpose of a fund some of his supporters set up to help pay for his political expenses, including the gift of his cocker spaniel, Checkers. The women titter throughout. After all, what would the Watergate be without Tricky Dick?

“Nixon was a monster to some people,” Fausel acknowledges, “but you can still see the personal side [of anyone] through their dogs.”

Cathy Alter is a writer in Washington.