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Visit the Presidential Pet Museum

By: Tracy Grinnell

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Politics, politics, politics! If you're like many, you've probably had it up to your ears with boring polls and conventions. Find out the real dirt on just who has been sharing the beds (or at least the foot of the beds) of some of our country's most famous presidents. This little-known info can be found on display at the Presidential Pet Museum in Lothian, Md., which is owned and operated by dog breeder Clair McLean.

McLean's Presidential Pet Museum encompasses everything from George Washington's (1789-1797) stallions and hounds and Martha Washington's parrot to Andrew Jackson's (1829-1837) pet mice. You'll even learn about Martin Van Buren's (1837-1841) two tiger cubs and Abraham Lincoln's (1861-1865) white rabbit along with Clinton's cat Socks and chocolate Labrador retriever Buddy. And that's just naming a few.

The Big Idea

McLean's family is well known for breeding bouvier des Flandres dogs since the 1940s, so it's no wonder she was chosen in 1986 to take care of and groom "Lucky" the Bouvier des Flandres, which was owned by President and Mrs. Reagan. "Because of my history in breeding bouviers," McLean says, "I was commissioned to take care of and groom Ronald and Nancy's unruly dog for about nine months. He'd been to a trainer but just couldn't be housebroken. So, he was exiled from the White House but lived happily at the Reagan's ranch home. His place at the White House food bowl was taken by a King Charles spaniel named Rex."

Working in the presidential arena gave McLean the idea to collect presidential pet items as a hobby. And this grew into a museum, which she opened in 1998 to house her finds. McLean had the forethought to save Lucky's clipped hair each time she groomed him, which led to the creation of one of the "highlights" of her museum. "My mother and I wondered what we could do with all the hair I'd collected," says McLean. "She decided to create a portrait of Lucky with it. It's quite special because Lucky is now deceased."

For other first pet items, McLean searched www.ebay.com, rummaged through yard sales and raised donations. "I have now amassed over 500 artifacts, items, news articles, etc., all having to do with our presidents' pets," she says.

A Growing Venture

Though her museum isn't affiliated with the U.S. government, many presidential libraries - such as JFK, Eisenhower, Carter, Ford and Nixon, have responded to her requests for memorabilia "with wonderfully gracious contributions," McLean says.

Her treasure trove of rare memorabilia keeps expanding and pet lovers of all ages will find that for hundreds of years, animals have enriched the lives of some of the most important people who've shaped our country's history.

The Presidential Pet Museum is open year-round, seven days a week and is free. Visitors are welcome to stop by or make an appointment.

For more information or to make an appointment, call (410) 741-0899 or email www.deewal1@aol.com

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