Back in the late ’90s, when President Bill Clinton brought Buddy to serve as First Dog, this quote by Harry S Truman was everywhere. “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” In fact, this Irish Independent story cites journalist Philip Delves Broughton reporting, “Truman used to say,” as if he was wandering around evangelizing for dog ownership. (“Spay and neuter your pets,” as Harry Truman used to say!)
Working on a show called Pet News at the time, it was a rare chance to correct some bad history, and a quick call to the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, brought the answer. One interesting consideration: Where today White House dogs like Buddy and Barney and Bo are pets, back in Truman’s youth as a farm boy all dogs were working dogs, not companions. (The farm is now part of The Harry S Truman National Historic Site.)
The practical Truman simply wasn’t what we’d call a dog-lover, prone to gushing over puppies. It’s also worth noting that, once again, the subject was long dead before he said this. There are no appearances of the quote or context in any print media prior to Truman’s death in 1972. It’s also worth noting that the president’s daughter, Margaret Truman, actually wrote a book called “White House Pets.” Surely if her father said something so memorable related to the subject, she’d have recorded it there.