Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The White House Puppy No One Wanted

Dog breeders crank out puppies and, despite what they tell each other and what they tell themselves, most never bother to actually find out what happened to their dogs after that first exchange of money.

Nor does anyone else, it seems. 

We have over 75 million dogs in this country, but finding solid statistics on where puppies come from -- and where they go to over the course of their lives-- is very difficult. 

I know of no research that tracks puppies by "source stream" (pet shop, newspaper, hobby breeder, UKC, AKC, working dog kennel, friend, pound puppy) over a life time. 
Even being in the public eye does not necessarily guarantee a stable life.  Take the case of "Feller," a Cocker Spaniel puppy that arrived unsolicited at the White House in December of 1947. 

Though Harry Truman rather famously said that "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” he apparently was not much of a dog man himself. 

President Truman named the un-asked for pup “Feller," and though Harry Truman's daughter wanted to keep the dog, Bess Truman over-ruled her as she knew the real job of taking care of the dog was to fall on her shoulders, and she wanted no part of it.

With neither Harry nor Bess Truman eager to keep the dog, the puppy was quietly placed with Brigadier General Wallace Graham who was the White House physician and who was stationed at quarters in Walter Reed Army Hospital.

The fact that Truman did not immediately embrace a dog he never asked for did not sit well with the newspaper-reading public who attacked Truman as “anti-dog” and denounced Dr. Graham for having had the temerity to accept it. 

Do you think this little tempest in a teacup might have had more to do with politics than concern about canine welfare?  Count on it!

Graham, perhaps realizing that the hospital was not the best place to raise a dog, or perhaps under direct orders from the White House, which may have been trying to manage this contrived crisis, decided to move the dog on to Admiral James K. Foskett who took the young dog to Camp David where it was given to Quartermaster Chief George A. Poplin to manage.   


Though nominally back in the orbit of the White House at Camp David, Feller had actually passed through five hands in short order and was, in fact, owned by no one, a situation that continued for a number of years. 
Poplin was eventually transferred, and Feller's care was then handed off to Camp David's Damage Control Chief Ralph Loften who, in turn, eventually passed the dog on to Chief Boatswain Robert W. Lyle (Camp David is under the command of the U.S. Navy and Marines despite being located in the Maryland mountains).

When Lyle was transferred to Italy in 1953, he asked if he could take Feller with him. Permission was granted under one condition:  No mention could ever be made of the fact that the dog had once been given to Harry Truman!

In the end, Feller never actually went to Italy with Robert Lyle.  Instead, the dog was given by Robert to his father, Archie Otis Lyle, who owned a farm near Greenfield, Ohio.  There Feller finally lived out the remainder of his life, owned at last. 

Feller is said to have died happy and in old age, but I can find no mention of his actual age at passing.

While the story of Feller is exceptional in that this was a dog given to a President, it is unexceptional in the sense that this dog was jettisoned by a breeder who gave very little thought  to what might happen to the dog, and who never bothered to follow up. 

Like so many dogs, Feller was dumped/acquired in haste and without too much planning, and it subsequently passed through many hands before it disappeared off the radar.

Did Feller really die happy in old age?  Perhaps.  We would all like to think so.  But the fact that this story does not have a clear terminal date suggests this might be wishful thinking.

If anyone turns up a documented end-date for Feller, I would like to hear it! 


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