In the President’s Dog House

Pictured above, via, is former First Lady of the United States Barbara Bush. She and her husband, George Herbert Walker Bush, lived in the White House from January 20, 1989, through January 20, 1993. Joining them in Washington were two dogs, Ranger and Millie, pictured above. And as you can see — the matching sweatsuits should be a giveaway — the Bushes really loved their dogs.

If you were around during the Bush administration, you already knew that, though. Millie is often regarded as “the most famous dog in White House history,” occasionally making appearances at state events. In Bush’s unsuccessful campaign for re-election in 1992, Millie even became a point of debate; President Bush, referring to Bill Clinton and Al Gore (his Democratic opponents), once said “my dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.” 

But Ranger wasn’t disfavored by President Bush — per some, Ranger was the President’s favorite. (Millie may not have minded much; Ranger was her son.) Either way, Bush certainly wished that Ranger would remain in good health — a wish that proved difficult. Apparently, the staff had a habit of feeding Ranger under the table. And that became a problem. Ranger got too fat.

The solution? An executive order. Kind of. In February of 1992, President Bush issued the following letter (via Letters of Note), insisting that his staff take a “formal ‘pledge'” to stop feeding Ranger.

The letter probably worked, although it’s hard to say — if someone snuck Ranger a biscuit here or there, it’s not like the dog would have admitted to it. In any event, in Bush’s last eleven months of office, he saw no need to send a follow-up note.

Ranger, unfortunately, was diagnosed with cancer and was euthanized in 1993. Ranger’s death hit Bush hard. In another note — to a dog — the former president wrote: “I cried for two days. I cried because I loved him and knew I’d miss him; for he had made me the happiest dog owner in the whole world. I know that when you are an old guy, you aren’t supposed to cry, but I did.”  No one held this against him, we hope.

Bonus fact: Millie also gave birth to another dog, dubbed “Spot Fetcher.” (The name is a reference to a baseball player.) George W. Bush, George and Barbara’s oldest child, took Spot Fetcher as his own pet. But Spot briefly lived in the White House before moving into W’s home; Spot was born in March of 1989, while Millie called the White House home. When George W. Bush became President in 2001, Spot moved back into the White House; he’s generally considered to be the only pet to live in the White House during two non-consecutive terms.

From the Archives: The Kitchen Utensil That Woofed: Dogs making chicken.