During their time in the White House (1953-1961), Ike and Mamie Eisenhower simplified their lives by keeping animals to a minimum. They had only two pets during this time, a never-photographed parakeet and a rarely photographed Weimeraner named Heidi.
In the 1950s when Heidi lived at the White House, the Weimeraner was still a relatively unusual dog to be owned by a family in the United States. Originally these dogs were bred by Germans as hunting dogs. However, the Weimeraner was unique because unlike most hunting dogs that usually lived in a kennel with other dogs, the Weimerander was an all-purpose family dog. It could be taken hunting but was also very loyal to the family, serving both as guard dog of the home and playmate to the family’s children.
The Eisenhowers’ Dog was Unusual
Up until the late 1800s, any Weimeraner sold for use in America was sterilized as the Germans did not want Americans to popularize the breed and change its basic attributes, which included great hunting skills as well as a lively and pleasant disposition.
By the early 1900s, this practice had changed and dogs were being sold more freely. However, most Americans in the 1950s were more likely to own mutts than a pure breed dog; a dog like Heidi would still have been an uncommon sight. (Today the Weimeraner is probably best known for being the breed of dog owned by artist William Wegman, who has captured the dogs in still photography, posing as Little Red Riding Hood and countless other characters, as well as making appearances on shows like Sesame Street.)
On its website, the Eisenhower library quotes a letter from Eisenhower in 1958 to Arthur Summerfield (1899-1972) from whom the Eisenhowers had received the dog. : “Heidi is definitely an asset to life in the White House. She cavorts on the South Lawn at a great rate, with such important projects as chasing squirrels and investigating what might be under bushes. She is beautiful and well-behaved (occasionally she tends toward stubbornness but is then immediately apologetic about it). And she is extremely affectionate and seemingly happy. I am constantly indebted to you both for giving her to me . . .”
In addition to providing the Eisenhowers with Heidi, Arthur Summerfield served as postmaster general for Eisenhower from 1953-61. These years were notable for the fact that the U.S. experimented with rocket-delivered mail during that time, later referred to as “missile mail.”
However, any dog owner will identify with the Eisenhowers’ likely chagrin when Heidi left a good-sized yellow stain on the carpet in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House. However, unlike most of us, Mamie and Ike were probably not expected to clean it up.
By 1961 Heidi had made the out-of-office transition to the Eisenhowers’ farm in Gettysburg, where she gave birth to at least one littler of puppies.
And for a sample of William Wegman’s work, I guarantee dog lovers a laugh with a video clip from 1973-74 called ”Spelling Lesson.”