From her earliest childhood days on Long Island, through her youth in New York, Newport, Rhode Island and McLean, Virginia, to her public period as the wife of a U.S. Senator in Washington and in the White House as First Lady of the United States, to her life afterwards as the world’s most famous woman on Fifth Avenue in New York, Avenue Foch in Paris and on Skorpios Island, Greece, there was one element to her life which remained as consistent as her highly individualistic approach to living.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis loved her dogs.
And she didn’t discriminate based on breed or size, her menageries over the years including spaniel to daschund to poodle to shepherd to mixed-breed.
Although much has been written about how the radical differences in personality between her father, John “Black Jack” Bouvier and her mother Janet Norton Lee, is what essentially led to their acrimonious separation in 1936 and divorce in 1940 when their eldest child “Jackie” was eleven years old, Jack and Janet shared one bond which they jointly passed on to her – that love of dogs.
In fact, as a very young child, Jackie Bouvier often expressed her views by assigning human emotions, thoughts and feelings to dogs. The very first “book” she wrote was The Adventures of George Woofty, Esquire, a star-crossed love story between two dogs who couldn’t marry because they were of different breeds.
Dogs were also the subject which compelled her determination to publicly express her opinion on a trending social issue. When her father read to her a newspaper story on the subject of vivisection on dogs, Jackie Bouvier became enraged. She directed her anger by dictating her feelings to her father, who composed it all in a telegram, registering her protest against the practice of medical experimentation on dogs, which he then sent to the New York Journal-American.
It is difficult to precisely chronicle just which dogs she shared her life with on a permanent basis as a child and which were “borrowed.” It is known that the first dog to which she became extremely attached was Hootchie, a Scottish Terrier. When she was only two years old, she posed with him for a family snapshot in an informal setting. Other dogs she was snapped hugging and wrapping her arm around may well have been entered as contestants in the annual East Hampton Dog Show.
When she was seven years old and began to spend weekend time with her father, he often “rented” a dog from a local pet shop for Jackie and her younger sister Lee to enjoy and foster-care, including walks in Central Park and, during summers, along the country roads at his family’s seasonal home in East Hampton. One of the regulars was the massive King Phar, a Harlequin Great Dane, which frightened most adults – but not little Jackie.
Following the separation of her parents, Jackie Bouvier lived with her mother and sister in a posh Park Avenue apartment building built and owned by her grandfather, James Thomas Lee. While there, she seemed to develop an affection for dogs of a far larger breed.
The family, recalled a niece of Janet Lee I interviewed for my 1997 oral history biography of Mrs. Onassis, especially recalled a very large dog of the Bouvier de Flandres breed.
The dog was likely acquired because his breed name was the same as his human family’s, rather than as the ideal dog to make a home in a relatively small Park Avenue apartment.
One Sunday, when Mrs. Bouvier and her daughter returned from church, they found their home in a shambles. The dog had entirely wrecked the apartment, smashing lamps, tearing chair cushions and overturning bookcases.
He was soon given up for adoption.
No picture of the family dog, whose name is unknown, has surfaced to date.
With the remarriage of her mother in 1942 to Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jackie Bouvier moved to their home, Merrywood, in McLean, Virginia, attending middle school in Washington, D.C. for several years, before leaving for Miss Porter’s boarding school in Connecticut. In the summer months, although she still visited her father and his family in East Hampton, she spent most of her time at the Auchincloss summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, named Hammersmith Farm.
Acquired in 1945, her dog companion during these years was a poodle she named “Gaully,” in honor of the famous French World War II general, Charles De Gaulle. Gaully became her constant companion when she was in McLean or Newport. However, until her marriage to U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy in September of 1953, Jackie was frequently away for long stretches. Initially enrolled at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, then as an exchange student, living in Paris, it was not until 1950 that she settled back at home in McLean, commuting into Washington, D.C., to finish her degree at George Washington University. After a brief trip to Europe, Jackie got a job as both a newspaper reporter and photographer for the Washington Times-Herald.
Although she wrote occasional full-length feature stories, Miss Bouvier was primarily focused on her regular column, The Inquiring Cameragirl, in which she asked random people on the street a single question, providing their responses and snapping their picture to be included with it. On one occasion, she “interviewed” four dogs, including Gaully. Even after she married and lived in a series of homes, first in Virginia near that of her mother and stepfather, and then across the Potomac River in Georgetown, she remained attached to Gaully.
In fact, during a long day when the young Senate wife was followed by a photographer who’d been hired to take publicity pictures of her, she fortified herself for the camera with the presence of her friend Gaully. By this time, her mother had another poodle and during the increasingly long periods of time when Jackie was away, accompanying her husband on foreign junkets and helping in his 1958 Senate re-election campaign, Gaully stayed with Janet.
Although details of Gaully’s final days with Jackie are unknown, he would have been over twelve years old by the time her daughter Caroline was born, in 1957.
By the time, John F. Kennedy was running for President, Jackie had a new dog, Charlie the Welsh Terrier, whom she bought as a gift for her husband.
She taught her toddler to trust and enjoy Charlie but ostensibly at least, he was “Jack’s dog.”
With her husband’s election to the presidency and her move to the White House in January of 1960 with her daughter and new-born son John, Jackie’s menagerie of dogs not only increased but became familiar names and faces to the American public.
In a way which most closely resembled the closeness and physical comfort she seemed to have found with Gaully, among the White House dogs the one she most closely bonded with was a German Shepherd by the name of Clipper.
Clipper had been a gift to her from her father-in-law, former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy. In a life where her husband was more often away than around her and she was surrounded by a phalanx of unfamiliar men in black suits and sunglasses intended to protect her, Jackie Kennedy seemed to find her greatest emotional protection from others in her companionship with Clipper.
There was, perhaps, more than humor in her response to inquisitive news women who asked her what Clipped liked to eat.
Considering such questions intrusive, the First Lady purred back, “Reporters.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy of all the dog companions to Jacqueline Kennedy was a fur ball who obtained global fame.
In between the tense talks held by President Kennedy in Vienna with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in April of 1961 was a dinner and performance held for the principals at the Schoenberg Palace. Khrushchev cozied up to the American First Lady and the duo began a Jackie launched her own little missile by raising a topic of Soviet space program, a record soon to be surpassed by that of the U.S. Khrushchev distracted her away from pinning him on specifics about the Soviet program by indulging her known love of dogs. He bragged of the brave mixed-breed Strelka who, after surviving an earlier rocket mission, lived in a such a state of communist compassion that she recently delivered a healthy litter of four puppies. Jackie threw Nikki a challenge: send her one of these thriving puppies. In fact, he would – along with nine bottles of Soviet perfume. He later wrote, “I liked her very much. She knew how to make jokes and was, as our people say, quick with her tongue. In other words, she had no trouble finding the right word to cut you short if you weren’t careful with her….But even in small talk she demonstrated her intelligence.”
Jackie named the dog “Pushinka,” and she became an especially loving dog, gentle and observant – but Clipper ruled the family roost. At the same time that the First Lady became pregnant, so too did Pushinka by Charlie the Welsh terrier. Inundated with some 5,000 letters from American children begging for one of the four puppies born to Pushinka, Jackie created an essay contest, and acted as judge in awarding each of the top two child-writers with one of the litter. Behind the charming little episode, however, the First Lady offered subtext, making the theme of her essay contest “world peace.”
Jackie named the four puppies Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker.
Butterfly was given to one of the child essay-winners, Karen House of Westchester Illinois, and Streaker to the other winner, Mark Bruce of Columbia, Missouri.
In the August 1963 days following the loss of her own baby, Patrick, avoiding any further trauma to Caroline and John, Jackie decided not to immediately give away all of the newborn babies of Pushinka. At least until they all returned to Washington in the fall, Blackie and White Tips remained in the Kennedy menagerie.
In fact, that menagerie had grown suddenly crowded two months earlier, following the President’s trip to Ireland.
As a gift to commemorate the visit to his ancestral homeland, the Irish Ambassador presented the First Family with two more dogs, an Irish wolfhound whom Jackie called Wolf, and a small Irish spaniel, called Shannon.
Too crowded, perhaps, for little Pushinka.
The famous dog was literally out of the picture when the family gathered for a photo at the end of August in 1963. Joining Charlie, who was older than five years old, and Clipper, who was just about three years old, were White Tips, Blackie, Wolf, and Shannon.
Within three months, however, all of Jackie’s dogs, except for one, would be gone.
Having to suddenly move out of her home in the White House, upon the death of her husband in November of 1963, Jackie Kennedy had to scramble to find at least a temporary home in a place where her childrens’ lives could remain as uninterrupted as possible. The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson offered to permit the small school group which composed Caroline Kennedy’s kindergarten to continue to gather in the third-floor solarium of the White House, and all of the late President’s papers and possessions had to be processed from Washington. Rather than relocate to the one home she owned, a new house she’d had built called Wexford, on the outskirts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jackie accepted the offer of family friend, Ambassador Averell Harriman, to occupy his house in Georgetown, until one she would soon purchase nearby, was ready.
It was perhaps a matter of more than downsizing, however, which led Jackie Kennedy to give away all of the White House dogs.
Shortly thereafter, White Tips went to the longtime Kennedy family nursemaid Luella Hennessy, and Blackie to the household of the President’s sister and brother-in-law, Pat and Peter Lawford. Charlie went with Secret Service Agent Bob Foster. Famous Pushinka went to Ivan Williams, who was either a family friend or staff member.
It must have been bewildering for Clipper to suddenly lose not just the only home he’d ever known but also his close human companion Jackie. To whom he was given remains uncertain.
The only one who remained would be Shannon, who was rapidly growing. While it is only speculation, at the time Jackie found her closest emotional touchstones to her husband to be anything associated with his love of Ireland. And Wolf the Wolfhound would be quickly growing to a monstrously larger size than even Shannon.
It’s unclear who adopted Wolf – but Shannon stayed.
In fact, Shannon would remain close to Jackie Kennedy when, less than a year after the assassination, she relocated back to her roots, the city where she’d spent her own childhood, New York. And rather than have a Secret Service agent or one of the few servants who did come to work for her in her 15-room apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, Jackie liked to walk her own dog.
Granted, it was some years before New York, like all major cities, would enact “pooper-scooper” laws, but Jackie Kennedy might have discovered that she could enjoy relative anonymity among the tourists visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art across the street or in Central Park simply by walking her dog.
Few would have imagined that “the world’s most famous woman” would be on the other end of a leash from a shaggy, mottled spaniel dog.
Shannon might have indeed been the dog with the record of longest companionship to Jackie, at least twelve years – which gave Gaully a run for his money.
As her children aged and she remarried, to Aristotle Onassis, in October of 1968, Shannon kept up with them all. There the little fellow was, showing up in paparazzi images of “Jackie O” walking in and out of airports, in Athens and New York. And, at least one photograph, snapped of Jackie in her bedroom at 1040 Fifth Avenue in 1975, shows a very elderly Shannon sitting on her left leg while another, younger Irish spaniel, rests on her right. Son, or daughter of Shannon? It’s uncertain.
One other startling aspect of Jackie O’s continued love of dogs is that she also had an influence on her husband Ari.
Famous for his short tempter and impatience with people, no matter how important, one paparazzi captured the mighty Onassis exiting his apartment on the Avenue Foch in Paris – being pulled along by his very own black Labrador Retriever, thought the fellow’s name is unknown.
Aristotle Onassis died in March of 1975. His widow returned to the work force for the first time in twenty-two years that September, employed first at Viking Press and then Doubleday as a trade book editor. Her daughter had already left home at that time, studying in London and then going to college. Her son would be home for only two more years before he too left, for boarding school and then college. The apartment was soon devoid of regular tenants to walk and care for a dog.
And indeed, there were certainly no more pictures, at least which the public saw, which documented that Jackie Kennedy Onassis had any more canine companions until her death in 1994.
Still, when alone in her apartment, the presence of dogs was still felt.
Tomorrow, will be a look at some of the canine-themed furnishings Jackie used in her homes and the dogged influence she had on her son, John Kennedy, Jr. who also became an avid companion to at least two pooches.
- Obama’s Girls, Teddy’s Boys, Jackie Kennedy’s Kindergarten: School Tales of White House Kids (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Author’s Books (carlanthonyonline.com)
- JFK Items: Lost, Now Found: Photos (news.discovery.com)
- Little Known Black History Fact: Ann Lowe Designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s Wedding Dress (goodblacknews.org)
- T Magazine: The Real Lee Radziwill (tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com)