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By Rebecca Price Janney, Jan 19 2018 03:41PM

What was your favorite all-time pet? Is this special friend from your childhood, or maybe later in your life? What made this pet so special to you?


This past week I recorded a show about Presidential Pets with my radio host friend, Cynthia L. Simmons. Although the interview will run on Presidents Day, here’s a sneak preview, as well as an item or two I didn’t have time to talk about.


A famous quote has been attributed to Harry Truman: “If you want to have a friend in Washington, get a dog,” and certainly dogs have been the favored pets of our Presidents. In fact, there’s a Presidential Pet Museum, which was inspired by Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s dog, Lucky. When the Reagans first moved into the White House, they didn’t have a dog. In December 1984, the poster child for the March of Dimes gave the President and First Lady a Bouvier puppy that grew to the size of a small pony. There’s a famous picture of the dog taking the President for a walk on the White House Lawn with him with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher laughing in the background.


Lucky’s groomer, Claire McClean, once saved some of Lucky’s hair, and her mother incorporated the hair into a portrait of the dog. Mrs. McClean began collecting other pet-related White House artifacts and decided there needed to be a place for them. That’s when she came up with the idea of a museum dedicated to Presidential pets.


The Reagans ended up sending the dog to their California Ranch the next year after the dog failed to adjust to life at the White House. That Christmas, William F. Buckley, Jr. gave them a much more manageable pet, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel whom they named Rex. (I think all of you know how partial I am to Cavaliers!)


Other pet stories touched me, including one about beleaguered President Andrew Johnson who, during his impeachment trials, would put flour out at night in his room for a family of white mice.


Then there’s the account of President Calvin Coolidge, whose image was austere and aloof—his nickname was “silent Cal.” In fact, when he died someone asked, “How can you tell?”


Surprisingly, his love for pets showed a dramatically different side of his personality. During Coolidge’s tenure, many people referred to the White House as “The Pennsylvania Avenue Zoo.” The Coolidges had twelve dogs, two cats, four birds, a goose, a donkey, and a bobcat. The President’s most famous pet, however, was a raccoon named Rebecca, who loved to play in the tub with a bar of soap. Mrs. Coolidge used to cradle the animal in her arms like a baby, and the President often walked the raccoon on a leash!


While most of our Presidents have had pets, Harry Truman angered many Americans after an admirer sent him a Cocker Spaniel puppy, and the President promptly gave the dog away. Thousands of angry letters poured into the White House, but Truman told a reporter, “I didn’t ask for him, and I don’t need him.”


Another controversy erupted after Lyndon Johnson was showing off one of his beagles, whose name was Him, and he pulled the dog up by its long ears (the dog was still on his hind legs). He was widely criticized. The President apologized, but he explained he’d been doing this since the dog was a puppy, and Him seemed to enjoy the experience.


I’d love to know a story or two about your favorite pet.


Rex, the Reagans' Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Rex, the Reagans' Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
LBJ with Him
LBJ with Him

By Rebecca Price Janney, Apr 13 2017 05:39PM

This week I’ve been posting on social media about the 100th anniversary of World War I, namely some interesting facts such as the story about the wounded pigeon who still carried out its duties and managed to save an entire battalion. I talked about Harry Truman’s desire to serve in spite of his poor eyesight, how he memorized the doctor’s chart and managed to get into the service, attaining the rank of captain. There’s also the memorable tale of Sergeant Alvin C. York, a backwoods Tennessee native and conscientious objector who went on to become one of the war’s greatest heroes (I just love the movie about him starring Gary Cooper). There are so many more stories of bravery, patriotism, and honor.


When the U.S. entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson spoke about the great need to “save the world for democracy.” Like millions of Americans, he was burdened by the massive destruction casting a pall over Europe as belligerents hurled horrific new forms of death at each other, made possible by the technology that at the beginning of the 20th century, was supposed to have made such conflicts obsolete. The American forces were viewed by many to be the continent’s last, best hope to bring about an end to the devastation.


We might rightly say the 2.1 million Americans who served on the frontlines from 1917-to 1918 acted in the role of saviors of a suffering humanity. Many tens of thousands of them made the ultimate sacrifice, over 53,000 on the battlefield, and more than 63,000 who perished from disease and accidents. Then there were over 200,000 wounded and many more who would suffer themselves from post traumatic stress.


Each American soldier who stepped on a troop ship as he prepared for war was given a New Testament provided by the New York Bible Society. In it a message from former President Theodore Roosevelt was inscribed, encouraging the men, “Love mercy; treat your enemies well; succor the afflicted; treat every woman as if she were your sister; care for the little children; and be tender with the old and helpless. Walk humbly; you will do so if you study the life and teachings of the Savior, walking in His steps.” He reflected the belief that stretched all the way back to the Pilgrims and Puritans that America needed to set any example for other nations and people who had lost their way in a darkened world.


I find it fitting that we’re observing the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I during Holy Week. For as great as the debt we owe to those “Doughboys,” there is One far greater who paid the ultimate price to save the entire world from the dungeon of sin and death for all generations, until He comes again and beats our swords into ploughshares.


World War One Poster
World War One Poster
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