Adorable First Pets Or PR Nightmares

That sweet image of modern-day presidents romping with first pets--FDR with Fala, Reagan with Lucky, Clinton with Buddy--hides a not-so-adorable truth: Most were props.

In the first-ever critical look at presidential pets, a new exhibit at the White House Visitor Center reveals how important these critters were--or were not--to their masters.

Researcher Katie Schank, who opens the show June 21 by speaking on "Pets With a Purpose," tells us: "Not that everything in the White House is calculated, but I knew there was sort of something behind the pets that presidents chose to keep and pets they decided to get rid of."

Yes, pets were exiled, she explains, because they were PR disasters.

Consider FDR's first dogs: Meggie bit a reporter, and Major bit a senator before being shipped to Hyde Park. Roosevelt then got a Scottie, Fala, used mightily for publicity when he donated his chew toys to the WWII rubber drive.

Or Reagan: Lucky was banished when pictures showed him yanking the Gipper around. Some were "philanthropic pets," others "paparazzi pets" acquired to help a president's image.

Buddy, for example, helped Bubba with voters distrustful of cat owners, Schank suggests.

Then there's Bush's Barney. Says Schank: "I sometimes wonder if Bush got a Scottie because FDR had such good luck with one."

By Paul Bedard