“Just in: #Conan, the hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid, is in fact a GIRL, a U.S. defense official tells ABC News,” reporter Elizabeth McLaughlin tweeted.
Minutes later, the Pentagon weighed in, writing in a statement to The Washington Post that “per U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Conan is a male dog.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, meanwhile, refused to divulge the sex of the dog. In a briefing room on Tuesday, she told reporters, “I won’t do that, because then you’ll say that I was talking about somebody’s sex or gender, so I’m not doing that.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham provided a different answer. In an email to The Post, she said Conan is “a boy.” She did not respond to a question about why the matter had sparked such confusion among authorities.
Whatever the reason, the flip-flopping caused a bit of a fracas, with headlines about the mystery of the dog’s sex appearing alongside those about the impeachment inquiry that has consumed the capital for months. Online sleuths zoomed in on photos of Conan to try to assess the dog’s sex themselves, while defense officials offered assurances that they had checked multiple times. Ridicule came from both right and left — though some saw a larger problem at work.
“On the one hand this is a very silly story about a dog,” tweeted Susan Hennessey, a Brookings Institution fellow in national security law. “On the other hand, it is an example of the complete and total inability to get clear, credible information regarding an innocuous and verifiable fact from the White House and DOD.”
The chaos dates back to late last month, according to Task & Purpose, when the Pentagon “refused to confirm” the dog’s sex. Online, observers speculated that Conan was perhaps a shero. But the head of Central Command, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., used male pronouns during an Oct. 30 briefing, saying that “he was injured” and “he has been returned to duty.”
During Monday’s news conference, Trump, too, referred to Conan as a “he.” The dog, mouth agape, nosed Vice President Pence for head scratches while being lavished with praise by the president, who noted “how beautiful and how calm he is during a situation like this.”
“The dog is incredible,” said Trump, who is not exactly a dog lover. “We spent some good time with it. So brilliant, so smart.”
A pool reporter, tasked with providing details about Trump’s day as a proxy for the rest of the press corps, described Conan as a “very good boy” in an initial report. But soon after, the pooler, Yahoo News’s Hunter Walker, sent an update. A White House official, speaking on background, had said the dog is female. Then came a third update from Walker, subject line: “Conan Is A Good Boy Again.”
Perhaps experiencing whiplash over the conflicting reports that Conan was
male female male, some news outlets removed all references to the dog’s sex or simply referred to Conan as “it.”
But by mid-Tuesday, it appeared that White House and military officials were again settling on the dog’s sex as male. In an update on her earlier tweet, McLaughlin wrote that two defense officials had told her Conan is “a BOY.” She noted that one official claimed to have “triple checked.”
“I guess the important thing here is that Conan, boy or girl, is a good dog who did excellent work with the U.S. military,” she wrote. “The end.”
At least, that is, for now.