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Tails of Power and Influence

Posted 11.12.15  - Culture

Plenty of us love our dogs, but there is often a particularly strong bond between powerful, successful men and their trusty hounds. That's possibly because atop the greasy pole of achievement, sycophants and subversives, plots and paranoia are the everyday companions of the great and the good. So, after a hard day at the coalface, the movers and shakers of this world like nothing more than a good pet who will ask only for a walk, a meal and a cuddle, rather than power or reward.

Mark Twain considered canine loyalty to be the key to this symbiotic relationship: 'If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.' General Charles de Gaulle would have agreed: 'The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.'

Perhaps all this explains why one in three US presidents has owned dogs, starting with the very first, George Washington, who had a kennel of 10. Theodore Roosevelt, president at the beginning of the 20th century, owned six, the most infamous of which was Pete, a Boston bull terrier, who almost caused an international incident when he ripped the trousers off the French ambassador during a White House visit.

Franklin D Roosevelt (president 1933-45) had better luck with his seven dogs, especially Fala, a Scottish terrier, who starred in an MGM movie about a day in the life of a White House dog and became an honorary private in the US army during World War II.

'If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.' - Mark Twain

Many officers had pet dogs in that conflict, but the most well-known is probably Willie, an English bull terrier who belonged to General George Patton. Willie went to war in France with his owner, and Patton's diary entry for 15th July, 1944, reads: 'Willie is crazy about me and almost has a fit when I come back to camp. He snores too, and is company at night.' I think the feeling was mutual.

Another belligerent man with a tender spot for animals was Winston Churchill. He owned two brown poodles, Rufus I and II. Rufus I was his World War II companion but was killed in a road accident in 1947. Rufus II was his successor, and family legend has it that, one night, while watching Oliver Twist at his country home, Chequers, Churchill was so horrified when Bill Sikes was about to drown his dog Bullseye that he covered the poodle's eyes and said, 'Don't look now, dear. I'll tell you about it afterwards.'

John F Kennedy had multiple canine pets, including an Irish wolfhound, a German shepherd and a cocker spaniel. In 1961, Soviet Premier Khrushchev gave Kennedy's daughter Caroline a dog called Pushinka ('Fluffy'), who was the offspring of the Russian space dog Strelka. Pushinka had four puppies, which JFK christened the 'pupniks'. Kennedy's brother Edward ensured the tradition of dogs in the West Wing continued by giving President Obama a Portuguese water dog called Amigo's New Hope (although his daughters prefer 'Bo') - a breed Ted Kennedy loved.

Modern entrepreneurs also seem to dote on dogs. PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak are all confirmed cynophilists. Zuckerberg's is a Hungarian Puli sheepdog called Beast - ironic, considering he looks like a mop head that has fallen off its pole - with his own Facebook page and more than two million followers, of course.

Wozniak has a couple of Bichon Frises called Bennie and Zee and says they give him 'companionship and trust'. He feeds them the finest steak for dinner, explaining, 'One day, robots will be super-smart and we humans will be their pets.' So he treats his dogs the way he'd like to be spoiled if he ended up as the cyber-family pet. Now that's forward planning.

* If you are as dog-gone crazy about your hound as the above, Turnbull & Asser has a new All About The Dog bespoke service, whereby the image of your favourite dog can be printed onto a pocket square, as well as off-the-peg (or leash) canine options.
Rob Ryan - Journalist and author of several historical novels

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