Wednesday, February 10, 2021


"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."  Attributed to Harry Truman, U.S. President

People, not dogs, are politicians. But that’s not always true.  Many have forgotten about Laddie Boy, the first presidential pet to became a star.   He tail-wagged his way into the hearts of many Americans.  The dog was so popular during his lifetime that if he’d run for office he surely would have won!

 Laddie Boy was “in office” during a time when the modern information age began.  The number of newspapers sold increased 75% between 1910-1930.  Movies and the radio made celebrities out of silent actors, sports figures, and even dogs.  Stubby the war dog heroically took part in 17 battles in World War I.  Strongheart was the first dog movie star.  Along with Laddie Boy, they paved the way for later animal “stars.”

Laddie Boy’s master was Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States.  He won the election in 1920.

 Los Angeles Times, Nov. 3, 1920

 It was the first presidential election where women were allowed to vote.  Some people said the ladies voted for Warren Harding because he was handsome.  But he also promised to return the country to “normalcy” after World War 1.  Many voters were tired of the turmoil and death war brought.  They wanted to lead normal, peaceful lives again.

Born July 26, 1920, Laddie Boy was a 7-month-old puppy when he became First Dog.  He arrived at The White House on March 5, 1921—Harding’s first full day as President. The purebred Airedale terrier was a gift from one of the President’s Toledo, Ohio friends.  Laddie Boy’s father, Tintern Tip Top, was a champion at dog shows.  Even as a pup Laddie Boy seemed to know he was a “tip top dog!”

President Harding and the First Lady, Florence, loved animals and wanted to promote animal welfare during their time in office. Harding howdy-doed his new pet to several cabinet members, and then took Laddie Boy outside to show him off to the reporters.  Laddie Boy was a hit!  (Since he was a teenager, Harding had been the publisher and editor of a newspaper in his hometown, Marion, Ohio.  He knew what made a good news story!)  

                                                                                                                        New York Times, March 5, 1921                                             

Warren and Florence Harding had no children together. Laddie Boy was their “baby.” The Hardings loved their dog, but also knew he was valuable politically as a symbol of “returning to normalcy.” What was more normal than a dog running around in your yard?

And that dog was smart!  Within days after arriving, Laddie Boy learned to fetch the paper for Warren and to retrieve his golf balls when the President practiced on the White House lawn.  

New York Times, March 11, 1921

Former President Woodrow Wilson’s cat was still hanging about after Harding won.  Laddie Boy decided as First Dog his duty was to chase her up a tree.  After all, it was his yard now!

Soon, the First Dog was asked to perform for the public.  Laddie Boy shook paws with hundreds of people during his time at the White House.  What a politician!

Laddie Boy also practiced shaking hands with the First Lady. (That was his homework).

Walter Whitman, The World's Work, 1921

Newspaper publishers gave President Harding a beautiful chair made of wood from a historic battleship.  Laddie Boy, who apparently liked fancy seats, tried it out.

Ohio Historical Society 

Maybe that’s why Harding had Laddie Boy sit in on most cabinet meetings. The President seemed to enjoy having a real friend there with him!  

The Sun, September 30, 1922

As the country’s First Dog, Laddie Boy constantly had his picture taken.  He even had his portrait painted.

Library of Congress, July 31, 1922

Laddie Boy made many public appearances.  In May 1921, he led the “Be Kind to Animals” parade.  He rode on his very own float. 

Library of Congress, May 13, 1921 

The distinguished man seated on the float was “Master of the Hounds,” William X. Jackson, who helped take care of Laddie Boy.  

A fancy celebration took place at the White House when Laddie Boy turned two.  The owner of Laddie Boy’s dad sent him a giant birthday cake made of dog biscuits! Every dog’s dream.  

Library of Congress, July 25, 1922

A letter arrived with the cake, supposedly written to Laddie Boy by his dad.  Many times the press pretended that the first dog, or his relatives, wrote things—then used them as newspaper articles.

Occasionally, even President Harding pretended to be his pet.  When a dog named Tiger supposedly sent Laddie Boy a message, Harding wrote back. 


New York Times, Feb. 7, 1922

Young admirers wrote letters about Laddie Boy too.  In 1922 Betsy Clark and Katherine Jones of New York wrote Mr. Harding asking about his dog.

Ohio Historical Society

The President wrote back. 

Ohio Historical Society

In 1923 Laddie Boy was the main attraction at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. President and Mrs. Harding were out of town.

Library of Congress, April 22, 1923

Did Laddie Boy write that he was tired of kids . . . and the annual Easter Egg Roll?  NO!


Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1923

Even though Laddie Boy was First Dog of the Land, he sometimes misbehaved.  When a prize sheep named Ohio Belle visited the White House with her owner, Laddie Boy gave her the run around!  How dare she eat the grass on his lawn!

Chicago Daily, April 11, 1922

If food was around, Laddie Boy’s manners were lacking.  He regularly begged for scraps from the dinner table.  President Harding and Florence were both softies and sneaked him lots of treats!  


The Sun, January 7, 1922

People sent the President and Laddie Boy unusual gifts.  Maybe they thought Laddie Boy was lonely.


Washington Post, May 19, 192

Probably wasn’t a good idea.  A company named their chicken dog food after the First Dog!

 Laddie Boy missed his best friend when he traveled.  On April 9. 1923, he joyously greeted Harding after he returned from a presidential trip to Florida.

Library of Congress, April 9, 1923

Warren Harding was a good master, but like most of us, he wasn’t perfect. He gave some of his friends important government jobs, and trusted them to do the right thing. The President was loyal to them when he should have seen they were crooks.  He forgot that some people weren’t as loyal as his dog was."The Teapot Dome Scandal" would be linked to the President's name forever.

The President decided to take a train trip across the country to Alaska in June 1923.  He wanted to tell the American people of all the good things his administration had accomplished. 

Washington Post, June 21, 1923

His economic policies helped end the Depression by 1921. Harding created the Bureau of the Budget, limited arms, and signed a treaty with Germany and Austria formally ending World War 1.  In 1921 he gave a speech at the University of Alabama urging an end to racial injustice.  It was the first time a president had spoken about race in the South since the Civil War.

Harding planned to be away for two months.

Library of Congress, August 1, 1923

Laddie Boy waited for his return.  But he never came back.  On August 2, 1923, Warren Harding died of a heart attack while he was in San Francisco.  He had been President for less than 2 ½ years.  

Laddie Boy surely missed his master who had been such a kind and caring friend.  

Finally, Florence and Laddie Boy both left the White House forever.  Laddie Boy’s last official act as First Dog was to greet the new President—Calvin Coolidge and his wife.  Warren would have wanted him to be a good sport.


New York Times, August 17, 1923

After that, Laddie Boy retired.  For the rest of his long, happy life, he lived with Florence’s favorite Secret Service agent, Harry Barker, and his family in Newtonville, Massachusetts. 

Because he fetched the Hardings’ newspaper, Laddie Boy had been called a “newsboy.” The real newsboys of America (young boys who sold newspapers on street corners) donated 19,134 pennies to be melted down and made into a magnificent life-sized statue. (Now, that was when a penny was worth something!)  He had to pose 15 times for the artist Baska Paeff.


National Museum of History, Smithsonian Institution

 In 1927 the bronze statue of Laddie Boy was presented to the Smithsonian Institution, and is included in the collections of the National Museum of American History. 

Laddie Boy’s widespread popularity was a result of the America’s newfound fascination with celebrities as well as the President and Mrs. Hardings’ efforts to promote their dog and the animal welfare movement.  But it was also because Laddie Boy was an intelligent, handsome, charming, friendly, well-trained dog.   For a few glittering years an Airedale terrier from Ohio enchanted the press and the public.  

Laddie Boy was indeed The First Dog of the Land—and a great politician!


The old newspapers and photos I used in Laddie Boy’s story are primary sources. People who had first hand knowledge of the events they wrote about and photographed made them.  They lived at the same time as Laddie Boy.

Some other examples of primary sources are diaries, letters, speeches, paintings, personal papers, old documents, newsreels, and official records. 

Primary sources are a wonderful way to study history. Become a history detective and explore those primary sources for treasures from the past.

That’s how I came to know and love the great Laddie Boy.


Adam, Samuel Hopkins.  Incredible Era;: The Life and Times of Warren Gamaliel Harding. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1939

Dean, John. Warren G. Harding.  The American President Series, ed. John Schlesinger, Jr.  New York: Henry Holt and Company Times Books, 2005.

Emery, M., E. & Roberts, N. L.  The  Press and America:  An Interpretive History of the Mass Media (8th ed.).  Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, 1996.

Parrish, M.E.  The Anxious Decades:  American in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-41.  New York: Norton, 1992.

Prycior, Helena, “The Making of the ‘First Dog’:  President Warren G. Harding and Laddie Boy,” Society & Animals 13.2 (2005).

Truman, Margaret.  White House Pets.  New York: D. McKay Co., 1969.

The Harding Home Presidential Site

Thursday, March 14, 2019


Several years ago I wrote about a fabulous dog in my book THE TRUE STORY OF JIM THE WONDER DOG. Words on the dust jacket proclaim that Jim could understand foreign languages, Morse code, recognize colors, numbers and predict the future. It's never been proven that he couldn't.

We do love our dogs. And they are all wondrous in their own ways.  My husband and I certainly unabashedly adore our 16-month-old Samoyed, Emily. Although she doesn't do the things that Jim supposedly did, she is a pretty smart girl . . . and she is very photogenic.  

This week we traveled to North Carolina to visit our daughter's in-laws.  We like these people and would be friends with them even if we weren't "related" by marriage.  But, they do not own a dog and we were concerned that Emily might be too furry, too rambunctious, too doggy for them.

Emily—before seven hour trip commences. She knows something's up. Before now her trips have been to the vet, the pet store, doggie daycare, and short  jaunts to visit local friends and family.

We secured Emily with a strap that fastened into the seat belt holder. It is attached to her safety harness. In our small Honda that's the most practical solution for travel.  It's never a good idea to travel with a dog in the front seat.

Emily was not sure about the accusing voice on our car navigation system when we made an unexpected turn off the route. But our Samoyed settled down for the ride rather quickly.
Our pet was a travel ambassador at the rest stops, greeting everyone. Water was procured from their handy fountains. We packed quite a lot for the trip, including Emily's crate, dog food, dishes, a few toys, a long leash.  She is microchipped but we made sure she was also wearing identification.
Upon arrival, Emily checked out the excellent lakeside view and vegetation in our hosts' house.

Emily learned the lay of the land on a golf cart tour. . . and in the back of our hosts' van.

She helped with dish "washing" after meals. I knew Emily had arrived when my fellow mother-in-law encouraged this!

Our furry family member took our host for a walk at sunrise 
and was wind-whipped with everyone at Blowing Rock.
She slept peacefully in her crate at night, although she did check under the bed.
At the end of our visit, our hosts said please come again . . . and bring Emily!
They said our Wonder Dog was an excellent guest!
I think Emily's travel future looks rosy indeed!

Friday, December 30, 2016


My mind is on dogs because of my newest book THE TRUE STORY OF JIM THE WONDER DOG.  It’s about an amazing—perhaps clairvoyant—Missouri Depression Era hunting dog.  Yes it is!
I love dogs and can’t imagine my life without them.  They are truly our best friends and perhaps, except for fleas, in many ways superior to humans in their capacity for love and forgiveness. Another amazing Missourian, Mark Twain, once said, “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

In this blog I want to celebrate the four dogs that have graced our family’s lives.  But, I don’t want to be too hagiographic.  I’ll also celebrate their foibles.

Zelda (named after Zelda Fitzgerald) was our first dog.  She was a gorgeous Samoyed. Samoyeds are also called the smiling breed, and Zelda seemed to smile all the time. We bought her when my husband was still in law school.  She was my buddy and went everywhere that I did—she loved Big Macs and jogging.  We bred her and she delivered puppies on New Year’s Eve.  Zelda was with us until my first child turned one.  She died in an accident and left a hole in our hearts.

Foible:  Zelda loved Bic ballpoint pens.  She ate them, but never seemed to suffer any ill effects.  I found their corpses in the yard and throughout the house.  I guess that was the pen my husband used for his studies, but somehow she always got them.

Uncas (named after Fennimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans) was Zelda’s grandchild.  Our neighbor had bought one of Zelda’s pups and bred her.  We were able to add another wonderful Samoyed to our family in less than a year after we lost our beloved first dog.  Uncas was my daughter’s favorite.  A calm, wonderful pooch, he was probably the most beautiful dog we ever owned.
Foible:  We never had Uncas neutered.  That handsome devil made many escapes over the fence or through the front door during his life looking for love.  Only problem was that he could never find his way back.  He was so good looking that he attracted attention and kind people always called (our number was etched on his tag) when they found him. We were lucky.

Duncan (we just liked the name) was a dignified Scottish terrier with a killer sense of humor.  After Uncas died of old age our Samoyed dynasty ended. We decided to try a terrier.  Duncan was short and black and loving.  But, like all terriers, always seemed to be snickering to himself—muttering, “You really think I’m going to do what you say?”  He was my son’s favorite dog and would constantly nag that teenage boy to come out and play.  Duncan could dribble a soccer ball across the yard at lightening speed.

Foible:  When we brought little puppy Duncan home he immediately went over to an electric light cord, bit it, and got shocked.  It was on a Sunday.  I went to church and reported to another member of the congregation.  She said our dog would probably lose his teeth because of that.  That upset me and I felt new dog owner guilt—why hadn’t I kept my new little puppy safe from harm?  Of course, she was wrong.  Duncan sported beautiful, rather intimidating big terrier teeth his whole life. 

Scarlett (named after Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind).  After Duncan went to dog heaven we decided we loved the sassiness of terriers and acquired Scarlett.  She was incredibly gentle and loving with every one of our five grandchildren.  Scarlett was the official dog for three families.  I think as dog owners we evolved and made fewer mistakes with her.  She lived 12 and ½ full and happy years years and we treasure our memories of her.  

Foible:  We found out that Scarlett loved pumpkin—especially in a pie. Our wonderful neighbor who bakes the best pumpkin pie gave us one for Thanksgiving.  All our dinner guests enjoyed the main course while Scarlett slept on her rug beside my husband’s chair.  (Perhaps he bragged too much about her controlled, reliable behavior during meals.)  The desserts were on the kitchen table.  When it was time to cut the pie I discovered the crust had been licked clean and Scarlett had a suspiciously gooey moustache.  Lesson learned, now pumpkin pies are kept high and safe from the long paws of any Airedale.

Emily is named after the poet, Emily Dickinson.  We decided to revisit the lovely Samoyed breed that we started off with.  Makes us feel young again.  She is gorgeous, smart, full of love and enthusiasm and wants to please us. We are both totally smitten with this delightful 5 month old fur ball.

Foible:  She is just too cute with that soft fur . . . and those dog kisses.  There's a great danger during her puppyhood that we might spoil her, but we will do our best to remain alpha with our newest canine family member.

Dogs to me are a blessing.  They have enriched my life. Mark Twain also said, “The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man's.”  Well, I might not go that far, but if there is a heaven and I make it there, I hope my dogs are included.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Christmas is on my mind since my newest picture book SANTA'S UNDERWEAR (wonderfully illustrated by Marty Kelley) will make its grand appearance August 1.  So I'd like to share the story of my very favorite Christmas gift of all time.

On Christmas morning, when I was eight, I ran up the stairs to our attic family room expecting a new doll.  Then I saw my present. That sure didn't look like a doll!  Was it real?  Could it be?

I was seriously horse crazy as a kid.  I ate oatmeal for breakfast every morning—because horses ate oats.  I really wanted a horse.  But it wasn't going to happen because we lived in a small house with a small yard in the middle of Springfield, Missouri.
Me on my Grandpa Rhodes' farm horse, Nellie.  She didn't go very fast, but I was over the moon!
What was this?  Right here, beside our Christmas tree, stood a real live burro!  Not just any burro, but the most adorable burro in the world.  He looked like a big stuffed toy.  I rushed over and stroked his soft, velvety muzzle.  He turned his head to look at me with his big brown eyes.  He had the longest lashes I had ever seen.  I decided to name him Pedro.

I called my neighbor, Donita, and blurted, "I got a burro for Christmas!  Come see!"  She was pounding on our front door two minutes after I hung up the phone.
Me, in my nightshirt, admiring Pedro with my friend, Donita.
I'm not sure where Dad bought the burro, but the important fact is that he did. I later learned that around midnight, on Christmas Eve, the family car slowly pulled up in front of our house with my furry present.  They must have been quite a sight.  Imagine if a policeman had stopped Dad when he was driving and had written a ticket.  "Traffic violation:  Man driving across town with burro on lap."  Earlier, Dad had hidden some hay in our garage.  That's where Pedro spent the night before Christmas.  He didn't make a sound.  The surprise was perfect.

All the kids in the neighborhood were impressed and a little jealous.  I was an instant celebrity—The Girl with the Burro!

Pedro stayed with us through the Christmas vacation. I felt like a real cowgirl as I kept his stall supplied with sweet smelling hay.  I ran my hands over my burro's shaggy, rough coat, loving the feel of it.  I adored his funny, long ears.  Who needed a horse when I had a sweet, darling friend like Pedro?

At the end of Christmas break Pedro went to stay at a horse farm at the edge of town.  Plans were that I would visit him on weekends.

I never did get to visit my burro.  Pedro was there for a week and liked his new home.  He followed the horses around the pasture.  One afternoon there was a winter thunderstorm.  A frightened horse accidentally kicked Pedro in the head.  He died instantly.

My parents didn't tell me what really happened for many years.  They didn't want to spoil my love of horses.  They said Pedro ran away.

I like to think that all our pets end up in heaven.  Maybe Pedro is there—waiting for me.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Moira Rose Donohue and I first met for coffee after an essay I wrote about the Scottish actor, Gerard Butler, appeared in the Washington Post.  We are both admirers of "Gerry."  A few months later (not because of Gerry) I ended up joining a wonderful critique group that included Moira.  She is a talented writer and one of those fabulous people whose personality just sparkles.  Today, we'll learn a little more about her, and then Moira will answer the burning question, "What's on your fridge?"

How did you first start writing?
Moira:  "I started my writing career about fifteen years ago.  I initially wrote two children's books about punctuation.  As a former legislative lawyer, I had a very strong appreciation for the value of a well-placed punctuation mark that I wanted to share with children, although I have heard that some librarians in law schools even refer their law students to my punctuation books!"  (Note from Marty:  My husband, who teaches legal writing, keeps a copy of Moira's book ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE in his office to brandish in front of his law students!)

Moira continues, "But then I sort of fell into writing nonfiction when I was approached by an editor.  I didn't think I'd like it.  After all, when I was young, I rarely read nonfiction—and only if it related to dogs or ballet!  But now I find that I can't get enough of writing it!  I love learning about people and animals and history.  And I love that feeling of getting completely lost and immersed in another time, another world, another life.  Of course, I still write some fiction because otherwise all those crazy stories, like dancing punctuation marks and crime-solving dogs, would take over my brain."
Moira's latest book
Drum roll:  May I present Moira's fridge and what's on it!

Moira, tell us about what's on your fridge. 
"What's on your fridge?" is a question that really makes you take stock of what you are doing with your life.  When I stepped back and looked at mine, I was astonished at how much on my fridge was related to travel—either magnet souvenirs of interesting places I have been (Singapore, Tivoli Gardens and Australia); cards from places friends and family have been; and tickets to places I am going.  I guess travel is a big part of my life.  And it often intersects with my writing life as well.  For instance, I went to Denver to see (and kiss) an amazing pig I wrote about in PARROT GENIUS.  And I hope to get to the Krefelt Zoo in Germany someday to see Kidogo, the tightrope-walking gorilla I just wrote a story about."

Moira, what is your favorite thing on the fridge, and why?
"Wow, if I am completely honest, it is a card with a photo of a mother and baby giraffe on it.  It's a thank you note from my daughter after my husband and I visited her when she was in Kenya.  Not only does it remind me of that wonderful trip and of kissing giraffes while I was there, but she expresses her appreciation for the fact that we gave her the chance to explore the world and to become who she is supposed to be.  I feel good that she saw that we were trying to do that.  And I guess I hope, in a tiny way, that books I write for children will help them see things in the world in their own unique way."
Moira and her pup, Petunia
Besides ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE and PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE, Moira Rose Donohue has published two series of biographies for the educational market with State Standards Publishing, Inc., a just-released biography about Lyndon Johnson with My Core Library (an ABDO imprint) and two chapter books with National Geographic Kids:  KANGAROO TO THE RESCUE and PARROT GENIUS. She has more on the way, including DOG ON A BIKE, scheduled for release in spring, 2017.  She is the Nonfiction Coordinator for the SCBWI MidAtlantic Region.  She also loves tap dancing, old movies, hockey and dogs, and is the self-proclaimed Queen of Punctuation.  Learn more at