How pets keep the powerful grounded

This official White House photograph shows Bo (L) and Sunny (R), the Obama family dogs, on the South Lawn of the White House, on August 19, 2013. US President Barack Obama admitted August 23, 2013 to a new source of leaks in the inner corridors of the White House, saying first puppy Sunny has had a "couple of accidents." Photo/AFP

You may have seen influential people; world leaders photographed with their pets. Think of President Barack Obama with his dogs Bo and Sunny. Or the current American President Joe Biden’s dogs Champ and Major.

The two German Shepherds are the first pets to live at the White House since Obama left. Biden's plan on adding a cat though no update has been given on that yet.

Several US Presidents have had pets in the White House, which experts say has helped them soften their political image. According to the Presidential Pet Museum, the White House has been home to more than 300 animals, ranging from dozens of dogs, horses and birds to the occasional bear, tiger and alligator. Donald Trump was the first president without a pet in nearly 150 years in the White House.

Soften people’s view

Like ordinary people, pets owned by powerful people provide their owners with comfort, companionship, entertainment, occasional drama and generally good PR. Michelle Obama said one of the reasons they got the dogs was because they wanted to get the media’s attention off their daughters. This PR worked as the dogs made official appearances; they would mingle with members of the media and the children visiting the White House. They would appear on Michelle Obama’s campaigns on health care coverage, and thus they generally helped satiate the public’s curiosity about the first family. Pets soften people’s views on the powerful and humanize them.

Sociable and safe

Ireland President Michael D Higgins is another influential figure who always appears in public with his two dogs. When you search his name on the internet, you will not swipe much before stumbling on photos of him with his two dogs Brod and Sioda. He says he appears with the dogs in public because they are sociable and safe with people of any age.

Influential people often become strikingly emotional and honest when they start talking about the topic of their animal. For instance, in an interview last year, former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph, when asked about his dog Hugo, talked about him with a big grin and said he had to fly back home soon because he did not want the dog to be all alone in the house.

Generally, dogs will be the most conspicuous pets of the powerful. Some have cats, turtles, hamsters and parrots but dogs are what we get to see most. The pets help us connect with the powerful and remind us that they are human. They also provide companionship to them, seeing that being powerful can be notoriously lonely.

 Maryanne is a pet owner. [email protected]


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