Dogs of Camelot

JFK’s dogs Charlie and Pushinka sit companionably in front of the White House. They had a Cold War romance!

‘Dogs of Camelot’ reveals never-before-seen photos and stories of the Kennedys’ canine companions

John F. Kennedy once said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” He would’ve also undoubtedly believed that it is important to recognize the impact our four-legged friends have on our lives as well.

It may come as a surprise to learn that JFK had not one, not two, but nine dogs living with him and his family during their time at the White House. It’s a part of JFK’s presidency, and his life, that, in the five decades since his assassination, hasn’t received much attention. That is, until now, thanks to Dr. Margaret Reed and Joan Lownds. Their new book, “The Dogs of Camelot,” sheds light on Kennedy’s affinity for dogs, revealing stories and photos of his pet pups that have never been published before.

Had it not been for a chance encounter when she was a young girl, Reed, a nationally recognized animal trainer, might’ve never known there was even a story to tell about the Kennedy dogs. While summering in Hyannis Port in 1963, Reed says she was sitting outside one day and saw a German Shepherd walk into the driveway. “I was so thrilled, because he had a ball in his mouth and he kept asking me to throw it,” she recalls. “My mother was looking from the kitchen window and she started screaming and yelling, ‘Stay put, don’t move!’ She was concerned the dog was going to attack me. And then shortly after that, two men came up the driveway calling to the dog, and the dog picked up the ball and left with them.” The next day, one of those men returned, asking Reed and her mother if they wanted to see their puppies. Reed pleaded with her mother to go, so they went, finding themselves at the Kennedy Compound.    

“President Kennedy was standing there with a group of children. I remember they asked us how we liked the puppies,” Reed says. “When you’re a young person, you don’t think about who people are—I was just interested that there were so many dogs there, and I was just a kid in a candy shop.”

Fast-forward to 2010, and Reed says she decided to finally find out what happened to the dogs following Kennedy’s death, and learn more about their lives. She enlisted Connecticut journalist Joan Lownds, author of “Man Overboard: Inside the Honeymoon Cruise Murder,” to help her tell the stories she had begun to uncover through her extensive research. “I grew up Irish-Catholic in New Haven, Connecticut, so of course JFK was my hero,” Lownds says. “When Dr. Reed mentioned this project, I was fascinated because I’ve read so many books about him, but I never knew that he loved dogs so much. It was just a whole new perspective.”

JFK’s love of dogs, as Reed and Lownds detail, started when he was a boy, having grown up with his family dog Buddy. Before he became president, Kennedy would periodically show up, unannounced and in a business suit, at the farm of his mother-in-law, Janet Auchincloss, to play with Tippy, a Golden Retriever. Reed and Lownds found that Janet once said her son-in-law “loved animals desperately.”

In addition to accessing photos and documents from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Reed and Lownds spoke to many who witnessed firsthand the Kennedys’ loving relationships with their dogs—including Jacqueline Kennedy’s Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, who wrote the forward to the book, and former White House gardener Irvin Williams, who took Pushinka after the Kennedys left the White House. Pushinka—a gift from Premier Khrushchev of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War—and Charlie—JFK’s favorite dog, who is pictured on the book’s cover and helped calm the president during the Cuban Missile Crisis—had a litter of puppies together, and Jacqueline Kennedy held a contest for children around the country to write letters to get a puppy. Lownds says Jacqueline was particularly close with Clipper, the dog Reed met as a child. “It’s interesting to me that Jacqueline Kennedy, who was so beautiful and so refined, took such a liking to Clipper, this rambunctious German Shepherd,” Lownds says. “They just bonded.”

So why did JFK have such a strong connection to dogs? “I have asked that question to so many people,” Reed says, “and I think it’s because they held his confidence. He could be himself—he didn’t have to perform or put on airs when he was with the dogs.”

It’s this kind of connection that rings true for many dog lovers. “Dogs are important in our lives,” Reed says, “regardless of whether you’re a working man or President of the Unites States.”

Learn more about “The Dogs of Camelot” from the authors and get a signed copy of the book at the Hyannis Library on Wednesday, August 15, from 5-6 p.m.

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