When Barbra Streisand sat down with a reporter in November to promote her new album, the singer couldn’t help going off-topic and ruminating on a question that has plagued many Americans.
“How does the president not have a dog?” she asked the Los Angeles Times. “He’s the first president in 120 years that doesn’t have a dog in the White House.”
At last, we have an answer straight from President Trump himself. On Monday night, during his rally in El Paso, he finally explained that he doesn’t have a dog because the idea of getting one seems “phony” to him, and his base likes him just fine regardless. Plus, he said, he doesn’t have time.
The explanation came amid an extended riff about the superior abilities of German shepherds to sniff out drugs being smuggled across the border. “You do love your dogs, don’t you?” Trump said, as the crowd whistled and cheered. “I wouldn’t mind having one, honestly, but I don’t have any time. How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?”
The supporters seated behind the riser apparently thought that he would look great with a hound or two because they stood up and clapped. But Trump wasn’t having it.
“I don’t know, I don’t feel good,” he said. “Feels a little phony to me.” A lot of people had told him to get a dog because it would look good politically, he added, but he hadn’t felt the need because “that’s not the relationship I have with my people.”
Someone in the crowd shouted that President Barack Obama had a dog while in office. “Yeah, Obama had a dog, you’re right,” Trump responded, before getting back to the topic at hand, border security.
The digression reignited an old debate about whether Trump is the rare human being who actively loathes dogs. Ever since President William McKinley’s administration — which began in 1897 — every single occupant of the White House, save for Trump, has had a dog at some point. Over the last century, the tradition of presidential dogs became so formalized that when Scott Walker, then the Republican governor of Wisconsin, ran for president in 2016, his allergy to dog dander was seen as a liability. But like so many other political conventions, Trump turned that on its head as soon as he took office.
There has been at least one unsuccessful attempt to convince Trump to adopt a dog. A month after Trump was first elected, Lois Pope, a philanthropist in Palm Beach, Fla., attempted to give him an adorable Goldendoodle named Patton, explaining, “It goes with the presidency.” She told The Post’s Karin Brulliard that she had shown a photo of Patton to Barron Trump, then 10, and the picture had brought tears to the boy’s eyes. But that was more than two years ago, and Trump remains dogless. (Pope publicly denounced Trump in 2017 over his comments that there had been “very fine people” on both sides at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.)
Historically, appointing a first dog has been an easy source of positive publicity, since fuzzy animals tend to be universally popular with the electorate. While presidents going back to George Washington have kept dogs as pets, the popularization of photography in the 20th century made the canines into celebrated national figures in their own right. Historians point to Laddie Boy, an Airedale terrier belonging to President Warren G. Harding who had his own special chair at Cabinet meetings and “hosted” the White House Easter Egg Roll in 1923, as the first prominent political pet. By 2016, photo opportunities and public appearances featuring Bo and Sunny, the unruly-looking Portuguese water dogs adopted by the Obama family, were in such high demand that the pair needed their own official White House schedules.
“Lyndon Johnson’s beagles made the cover of Life magazine in 1964, providing at least a brief respite from contentious coverage over civil rights and the Vietnam War,” political analyst Lauren A. Wright wrote in The Washington Post in 2016. “To this day, a book written in the first-person voice of Barbara Bush’s springer spaniel, Millie, has outsold the memoirs of both the former first lady and former president George H.W. Bush.”
But past presidents also appear to have genuinely enjoyed spending time with their animal companions as a way of dealing with the pressures of a tiring and stressful job. There’s evidence that Trump doesn’t like dogs very much, possibly because of his germaphobic tendencies. “Donald was not a dog fan,” Ivana Trump, his first wife, wrote in her 2017 memoir, “Raising Trump.” He did briefly live with her poodle, Chappy, after she told him, “It’s me and Chappy or no one,” she wrote. But forced cohabitation didn’t go too well: Whenever Trump got near her closet, Chappy would “bark at him territorially."
And as The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker noted last year, Trump has a long-standing habit of comparing people who he perceives as enemies to dogs, often while accusing them of behavior not normally associated with canines.
Former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon was “dumped like a dog by almost everyone.” Mitt Romney “choked like a dog” during the 2012 presidential election. The New Hampshire Union Leader was “kicked out of the ABC News debate like a dog” in 2016. Conservative radio host Glenn Beck, retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, journalist David Gregory, conservative commentator Erick Erickson and the communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) have all been “fired like a dog,” despite the fact that dogs are not typically known to have jobs. Other people who have been directly likened to dogs include the now-deceased rapper Mac Miller, former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and former “The Apprentice” star and White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman.
On the other hand, however, Trump has an apparent soft spot for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Between 2010 and 2015, the show’s winners would traditionally pay a visit to Trump Tower and meet with Trump in his office overlooking Manhattan. On Monday, Independent Journal Review editor Josh Billinson noted on Twitter that Trump’s comment that he wouldn’t necessarily mind having a dog had coincided with the show, which is taking place this week.
In photographs from that era, Trump and the award-winning dogs seem to get along just fine. Will Alexander, whose beagle, Miss P, won Best in Show in 2015, told the Associated Press that Trump had been “very welcoming” to the two of them. “The whole time he was holding her in his arms,” he said. “She even left beagle hair on his black suit and it didn’t faze him.”
And on Monday night, Trump betrayed some admiration for German shepherds.
Those dogs, he said at the El Paso rally, are “unbelievable. They’ll run past all these empty boxes, and one of the boxes has drugs in it, deep down in a box. And it comes to a screeching halt, barking at it every time.” He added that he had asked the manufacturers of drug detection devices how their product compared to a dog that’s been trained to recognize the scent of illicit drugs.
“The guy looks at me and goes, ‘Sir, honestly, it’s not as good,’ ” he told the crowd. “Can you believe it? German shepherds.”