Burning “Him” at the Stake: The Infamous Incident of Lyndon Johnson Picking Up His Beagles by Their Ears
By: Michael W. Kramer
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On April 27, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson was walking his Beagles outside the White House alongside various members of the press. To the shock of those present, Johnson bent down and seemingly picked up one of his dogs (Him) by the ears. Photographers captured him in the act and soon after it was headline news across the country that, Johnson was not only a ruthless animal owner, but in the eyes of many, a powerful man unworthy of praise. In reality, Johnson was anything but a cruel dog owner.

Although Johnson did not intend to utilize his dogs as he excessively as he did during his 1964 reelection campaign, the legendary incident triggered the necessity of taking great strikes to show the American public that he was a model dog owner. Because of his efforts, Johnson succeeded in winning back the hearts and minds of dog owners across the county. As evidence shows, contrary to what most of the existing literature about Him and Her indicate, the incident aided dramatically aided Johnson throughout the 1964 election year.

Both Him and Her were born on June 27, 1963, and unfortunately their lives ended too soon as Her died on November 27, 1964, when she swallowed a rock, and Him was killed when he was hit by a car driven by a secret service agent on June 15, 1966. After Her's death, evidence reveals that Him remained Johnson's favorite dog even after a third dog, Blanco, was welcomed into the family.1

White House Presidential kennel keeper Traphes Bryant's explains that memoirs that Johnson always gave Him special treatment and often requested or demanded his presence so often that the secret service expressed frustration the dog sometimes got special treatment over their duties of protecting the president. Bryant recalls that while Johnson shed no tears upon learning of Him's untimely demise, his body language suggested otherwise as emotionally the president was “more upset and infuriated than ever" because his most beloved pet passed away at such a young age.2 A day after his death, an Associated Press (AP) article collaborates Bryant's belief that Him was the president's favorite dog as it's mentioned therein that although Him was technically registered and owned by Johnson's daughter Luci, he had the “No. 1 dog tag in the capital” and “really was the President's dog." What is most revealing in the AP article is that it accurately reports that while Him was famously associated with the ear-lifting incident, “there was a real, unmistakable affection” that he shared with Johnson.3

Sadly, presidential historians, scholars, journalists, and writers far too often embellish and only report on the outrage that ensued shortly after the incident. As Bryant mentions, the agency that Him had on aiding Johnson win reelection too often goes unnoticed. In 1968, when Johnson announced he would not seek or accept another term as the Democratic presidential representative, although he was able to repair his image as a loving and caring dog owner, he was unable to convince himself and the American people he was the right man to lead the nation for the next four years.

Throughout the twentieth century as corporations harnessed technological innovations, when people consumed animal meat that often meant personally killing or bringing their animal to a local butcher who would perform the sometimes-saddening task of turning the animal into ready to eat food. By 1964, however, the vast majority of Americans (spare those who still lived a more self-sufficient life on farms) seldom witnessed farm or domesticated animals being treated inhumanely or killed. When Johnson picked up Him by the ears, it is safe to conclude most people unprepared for what they witnessed and so when they saw it they were shocked. When Johnson picked his Him by the ears, the outcry and anger the American public had towards him was understandable. When people read about the incident and saw the accompanied photograph, people could easily place themselves in the dogs place and imagine how painful it would be for any dog, even human, to experience. Johnson, as a result, faced with the difficult task of having to convince the American public that he could be trusted and honored as being a model animal handler.

Historically, beagles obviously been picked up at one time or another by their ears. An examination of two books especially devoted to beagle care reveals that, prior to the incident; the question of whether or not ear lifting was painful was a question without an answer.

In 1955, George D. Whitney published the most detailed guidebook specifically detailing the history beagles and proper care methods owners should follow. In regards to the ears, Whitney includes only one reference and mentions that, as adopted by The National Beagle Club of America and approved by the American Kennel Club on February 13, 1935, the ears have an “entire absence of erectile power.”4

One year later, William Denlinger expanded on Whitney's work but, again, in regards to the ears, he too gives little mention to the ears other than a basic physical description. Similar to Whitney, Denlinger writes that the erectile muscles in a beagle’s ears are almost nonexistent as "the ears lift only slightly in the display of animation."5 Furthermore, Whtiney's finding almost match word-for-word the description Denlinger provided as he writes that a beagles' ears are "soft and fine in texture, hanging flatly against the cheeks with only enough erectile power to give the face an alert expression."6 The conclusions we can draw from both works is that, quite obviously, the lack the necessary erectile power for lifting.

While the amount of informational books about beagles were few and far between in the 1950s, today a plethora of books, magazines, and Internet sites strictly devoted to beagles are widely available. Currently, “dummy guide” books exemplify and provide readers with information necessary to increase their knowledge about nearly any topic imaginable. It comes as no surprise that today a “dummies book” exists supplying people with basic care guidelines for Beagles. An examination of Susan McCullough's book, Beagles for Dummies, published close to fifty years after Denlinger and Whitney's interestingly shows that despite the controversy generated by Johnson's infamous ear-lifting incident, there is still no mention whether or not picking up beagles by their ears is acceptable. McCullough's only mention regarding the ears tells that beagles should not be left alone with children under the age of six as “even the gentlest Beagle may nip a small child that pulls her tail or yanks her ears.”7

While newspaper and magazine articles provide historians with evidence showing how the press and people reacted to the incident, they also tell the story of what happened chronologically across the nation in the days, weeks, and months that followed. Research on the incident has revealed that it remains unclear whether Johnson picked up Him, Her, or both beagles by their ears. The confusion and differing accounts about what actually happened astonishingly reveals that confusion and uncertainty were the most popular followed the incident. As Denlinger and Whitney's books lacked any specific mention whether or not beagles could tolerate being picked up by their ears, it is understandable that there was no clear-cut consensus if such action was harmless or harmful to the dogs.

Understandably, because the dogs were twins, it is difficult for those unfamiliar with them to tell them apart. Although no video exists of the incident, evidence reveals that only Him was originally lifted. Furthermore, Johnson himself, when discussing the incident, referred to his actions in singular terms. Therefore, for consistency, in the remainder of this essay when the incident is mentioned I will keep the singular form and assume that it was only Him that was picked up by his ears. The inconsistency as to what dog(s) were picked up is significant because it reveals that people, then and now, often get the details of the incident wrong because the fact that the incident happened is often considered of more importance to the details of what occurred.

The question of whether or not beagles it is proper to lift beagles up by the ears was difficult for animal experts across the nation to answer in the days following the incident. On the first day after the incident, the first AP story reporting reveals that it was perplexing to animal experts to come to a consensus agreement about what occurred and the widespread confusion immediately after demonstrates the uniqueness of the event. The unfamiliarity and confusion about Johnson's actions is evident by the three opinions of animal experts interviewed and quoted in the AP article. Executive vice president of the American Kennel Club (Jeff Ness), a beauty parlor for dogs owner (Carol A. White), and a kennel owner (Claude Williams) all indicate they never heard picking up beagles by their ears was good for beagles. As quoted in the article, the three interviewees were as shocked baffled as everybody else was about the incident. Both Neff and White mention that they “never heard” of lifting beagles up by their ears to hear them yelp. White also expressed bewilderment because she considers “the generally accepted way to lift a dog is by supporting him with a hand under the stomach.” The confusion regarding Johnson's actions, as we shall see, benefited him because with animal authorizes unable to ascertain if lifting beagles up by their ears is a humane act.8

Further evidence of the confusion is also evident as one week later; people began to question the credentials of those interviewed. Ralph McGill, for instance, took issue with White and argued that because her area of expertise with dogs based on her experiences as a beauty parlor owner, her quotes were irrelevant. In McGill's opinion, “advice on how to lift a dog undoubtedly reflects the dog world's trend to miniature animals. The experts are thinking in a miniature manner.” In regards to Johnson's actions, McGill emphasized that his beagles were not show dogs but they were his companions and the President and his family “have always had good dogs and know very well how to take care of them without any advice from beauticians.”9

McGill does make a persuasive argument putting the validity of White's statement into question. However, while Him and Her (and any other Presidential pet for that matter) are not technically “show dogs,” because they are so often in the spotlight alongside the President, they are effectively always “on show.”

The confusion surrounding the incident is also evident as just as one day later, pet experts nationwide continued to explore the question surrounding the controversy. Some such as J. J. Shaffer, the managing director of the Chicago Humane Society, took a broader approach to the situation as he declared whether it is a dog or another animal; it is not a question about “how painful this is to beagles, but how painful it is to any living creatures to be lifted by the ears.”10 In the same article, similar animal experts such as Melvin Schlesinger, president of a Kansas City, MO kennel club, believed that the dogs felt no harm and that the incident was only “Republican propaganda (because Johnson was) just playing with the dog. The dog in the picture is still standing on its hind legs. You often pick up a beagle that way by its ears to see how it looks. That can't hurt.11

Contrary to what Schlesinger believes, other animal rights groups across the country voiced varying opinions. For example, spokespersons for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York commented that they were very much against President Johnson, or anybody, picking up dogs by the ears as doing so “hurts them as much as it would hurt people." When asked if Johnson simply picked the dog up to hear him yelp, the spokesman said "'if some body picked you up by the ears, you'd yelp too'."12

Concerning the yelp, dog expert and field trial judge Evelyn Monte said that the dogs yelped because they were in pain as it is common for dog handlers sometimes pinch ears to punish dogs. Regarding the incident she mentioned that Johnson's remarks that he only lifted Him up to hear him bark were strange “coming from who says he likes dogs.”13

Coren mentions writes that picking up beagles by the ears "can only be done with young puppies who are still quite light; when a dog grows a little older, it puts on more weight that the ears can comfortably support." Therefore, his findings summarizes the multiple articles and quotes about the incident from groups such as American Kennel Club, the National Beagle Club, the American society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and several state and national veterinarian associations all went on record to condemn Johnson's behavior as being harmful.14

As printed nationwide throughout the nation following the incident, animal-rights groups primarily offered condemnation at Johnson's efforts. However, the public reaction is also worth analyzing to gauge how pet owners across the country interpreted the incident and letters to the editor of newspapers provide us with the ability adequately examine and interpret the public’s reaction to the incident.

On April 29, 1964, nine letters to the editor appeared in the Los Angeles Times and all expressed harsh criticism directed personally at the President. In the first comment, Mrs. William Fowler expressed her fury and explained that the “President has lost my November vote and I suspect that of a million others by that act of deliberately lifting a helpless puppy by his ears. Why? Because he 'likes to hear them yelp' in pain.”

Others, such as expressed by Juanita Matassa, informed that “had I been there, President or not, he would have gotten the lecture he deserved on proper respect for God's creatures.”

We also see evidence that some people interpreted Johnson's actions metaphorically. Jeff Williamson, remarked “it's shocking to see a dog being treated like a taxpayer.” In addition, Jay Fulton writes, “maybe Lyndon Johnson is the best we can get for President, but I sure wouldn't vote him for dog catcher!”15

While reader comments in the Los Angeles Times were damning of the President, in the May 6, 1964, edition of the Chicago Tribune published nine significantly different letters to the editor. Reader comments ranged from varying degrees of approval or condemnation but also we notice that more people believed that, regardless of Johnson being a cruel or model animal owner, the media attention given to the story was excessive.

Joe Cody wrote one comment expressing approval of Johnson’s actions. He claims that because beagles have a history of being hunting dogs, "if a beagle can't bark or howl it's no good for hunting coons." Compared to others ways to getting beagles to speak, he informs that lifting by the ears is more humane when compared to other primitive and inhumane methods such as branding them with "a red hot branding iron or a switch."

Like Cody, Bill Williams also sided with Johnson during the controversy and stated that "if there is anybody who knows about beagles, it is our Mr. Lyndon Johnson. Why, when he was a boy, he spent more time with beagles than he did out mending fences.16

In contrast to Cody and Williams' comments, Mary Ann Kesmar, condemned the President's actions and wrote that the way people treat their animals is reflective of how they treat others. In her opinion, "by being kind to animals of the 'lower' order it is possible we may learn, in time, to respect, accept, and love all animals of the 'higher' order."

While Cody and Kesmar's takes demonstrate the approve or disapprove divide, Mrs. Emil Radke believed the press age of the incident was overblown. She references that the government had made monumental blunders concerning Korea, Cuba, and Berlin and that "our boys are dying in Viet Nam (sp)." Radke also writes, "our country is rushing towards socialism or worse. There is bribery and corruption in high places." Regarding the dog incident, she references that the American people should not "worry about the way the President treats his dogs!" Her concerns remind us that the battle against communism was a perpetual threat that should take precedence over an insignificant story.

Civil rights advocates also believed that the story in the press was too excessive. As an example, Gloria Fort writes that although she was an animal lover and was displeased by incident, she believed that if more attention was directed at towards improving race relations throughout the country it would be better off. Fort was not alone in her beliefs as Milford Stephens also added that civil rights issues should be the primary duties of the press.17

In a May 2, 1964, article written by Walter Trohan, we are provided insight into Johnson's personality as he explains that Johnson was extremely sensitive to criticism and he “my forgive, but he doesn't forget.” In specific regard the ear-lifting incident, he writes that Johnson would likely laugh at himself and use that as a way to win votes, but he would also but he would not laugh if anyone else gave his actions any mention.18

Following the incident, an article written by Tom Wicker appeared in the New York Times on May, 3, 1964, emphasizing the enormity of the situation facing. Wicker invoked the worst case scenario by Johnson and suggested that Johnson "may of lost the doglovers' vote as a result" of the incident. However, he also predicts that the issue may turn out to be insignificant when he writes that "on the other hand, no one knows how many other owners pick their dogs up by their." With that statement, we see how relative and troublesome it is to determine if picking beagles up by their ears is common or not. Since dogs became commonplace in homes, what happens behind closed doors with dog owners will always remain a mystery. 19

In the May 8, 1964, edition of Life, Johnson’s actions were considered an “awful act.” Also, as mentioned in the article, "thanks (a word worth noting) to all the furor over the ear-pulling incident (Life, May 8), Him and Her, who will be a year old next week, are the most talked about canines since F.D.R.'s Fala took office. Whether or not they approve of the President's way of demonstrating his affection, they probably wouldn't swap places with any other dogs in the world."20

On Tuesday, April 28, 1964, Shreve indicates that Johnson first began to realize the seriousness of the situation as he shouted, "oh God, I've got a dog story now!" President Johnson's reaction to the press, as evident by his private phone conversations with his staff members, reveals that he was both frustrated and angered by the incident. We get a glimpse into Johnson's mind and his reaction shows that he knew the incident required immediate attention if he wanted to win back the support of animal lovers. Johnson realized that while the majority of animal experts across the nation insisted that holding beagles up by their ears was a painful experience for them, he was keenly aware that the American people, with time and effort, could be convinced led to believe otherwise. As the weeks and months passed, Johnson, by manipulating the press and promoting himself as a model animal owner, took advantage of people's lack of knowledge.

Johnson took significant action to repair the impression that he was a mean animal owner. Perhaps no better evidence exists that allows us to get a glimpse into the mind of Johnson than the now archived audio tapes now available for download on the Internet.

On April 28, 1964, Johnson, when receiving a phone call from his press Secretary George Reedy inquired if the AP photographer was Doug Cornell. He affirmed that it was indeed and Johnson then replied, "I want to know what that son of a bitch looks like, and I will give him the silent treatment for a while." 21 In the conversation that followed, Johnson informed Reedy that they would prepare a briefing. Unfortunately, we will what the two discussed. As David Shreve indicates, the audio that captured the exchange between Reedy and the President was indecipherable. Therefore, it is unknown if they discussed any plans to counter the negative publicity surrounding the ear-lifting incident.22

The second call took place on April 29, 1964, with Mike Mansfield. Johnson initially was irate at senate minority leader Everett Dirksen who he learned appeared on the floor of the senate tugging at his ears. When Johnson discussed the matter with Mansfield, he declared that while Dirksen was a strong supporter of the civil rights bill, he was "acting like a shit-ass" and it was “none of his damn business how I treat my dog, and I'm a hell of a lot better to dogs and humans, too, than he is." We see that Johnson was not only infuriated with the press two days after the incident, but also assumed that Dirkson was using his political power to tarnish his image.

Johnson also took issue with the AP reporter who unfairly represented him in the media as being a cruel dog owner. He explained that whoever it was the "little guy" didn't know what he was doing and “hell, I know more about hounds than he's ever heard of, but they got every dog lover in the country raising hell, thinking I'm burning them at the stake. All just a big play about nothing because that's all they can get, and Dirksen is right in the middle of it, trying to stir it up."23

On May 5, 1964, Johnson again asserted his anger towards the press in a conversation with Hubert Humphrey stated that “of course (the press) got it wrong on the beagle dog … all I done was holding the beagle up so he could get the front of his picture instead of his ass." Johnson hints in the conversation that when a hound dog barks that it is pleasurable. However, when picking one up by the ears, it is understandable the bark (or yelp, as was commonly associated with the incident) led to some people misunderstanding what occurred.24

While reviewing various newspapers from the east to the west coast, my findings show that individual interpretations of the incident varied dramatically from person to person. Future historians have the opportunity to complete a more detailed geographical study to determine what parts of the county were more or less favorable to Johnson's effort. A quote by David Lawrence published in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 6, 1964, nicely summarizes the differing viewpoints. He writes, that is was not surprising that when Johnson pulled his dog's ears that there was a loud outcry from dog lovers across the county. A summation of his argument reveals that indeed politician’s personal behaviors affect the sensitivity of individual voters differently. In relation to the ear-lifting incident, when the President pulled the ears of his two beagles.25

On May 7, 1964, a United Press International article, as published in the Washington post, shows us that Johnson offered what they refer to as a "peace offering" by joining the Humane society Noticeably, Johnson’s efforts were clearly underway as he took immediate action repair his image and win back the vote of animal lovers.26

On July 21, 1964, Johnson had convinced the minds of some people that while a beagle’s should truthfully not be used for lifting, by continually reiterating that such actions were harmless, some people were starting to believe it to be true. For example, an article in the Laurel-Leader Call, submitted by an unidentified citizen falsely claims that "the ears of beagles have been stretched since the breed was developed - or at least since the dog show judges placed a premium on the length of a beagle's ears."27

However, a review of Dilinger, Witney, and McCullough's books shows that length of a beagle's ears is not a criteria judge’s use during dog shows.28 By July, we see that Johnson's efforts were proving convincing to more and more people.

Shortly after the incident, an article in the Los Angeles times that appeared on May 7, 1964, shows that Johnson's efforts to improve his image were well underway. An image appeared showing Johnson petting dogs with children looking on at what they saw was a friendly dog and caretaker. Because dogs are commonplace in many traditional family homes with children, the image showing Johnson petting Him and Her improved his image. One can easily imagine how in the days immediately following the ear-lifting incident, parents explaining what occurred would find it troublesome explaining to their kids what they were witnessing in the news. But now, parents could now more easily inform their kids that Johnson was actually friendly with animals.29

Signs that Johnson was improving his image as a dog lover are noticeable as just three days after, a Los Angeles Times editorial now referred to the ear-lifting incident as being a "small blunder."30

By June 14, 1964, a story by George Gallup in the Los Angeles Times yielded evidence that voters were not condemning Johnson as much compared to the letters to the editor immediately after the incident. A survey that asked why people had an unfavorable view of the President shows us that only two percent of people disliked Johnson because of his personal conduct.31

In a July 27, 1964, Washington Post article, we see more evidence of Johnson taking serious action to have his relationship with animals repaired. While walking with approximately two-hundred tourists, we learn that Johnson again intentionally held up his dogs by their ears. His actions demonstrate the damage control efforts continued three months after the incident. With every passing day, the public became more and more convinced that Johnson was correct. However, questions still lingered in the minds of many as demonstrated by the title of the article because when Johnson picked up one of his dogs, again a loud yipe was heard and a Johnson aid then told the reporter that “the yipe was off the record.”32 It is important to note that such a comment reveals to us that Johnson and his aides were still mindful of the original outrage that created the controversy and they were taking significant effort to control the media.

On May 22, 1964, AP reporter, Doug Cornell (who Johnson once said he would give “the silent treatment”) published an article accompanied by a photograph showing not showing Johnson standing over Him and pulling his ears, but instead calmly sitting down petting his dog. Cornell, originally hated by Johnson after the incident, eventually obtained more access to the President and throughout the rest of his presidency both developed a close and friendly bond. Such a story surely benefited Johnson because by putting his dogs into the public spotlight, he displayed that he really did have a tender loving side while also being considered by many as a ferocious politician.33

Perhaps no better example exists which demonstrates Johnson's attempts to win back the approval of dog lovers than when he granted Francis Miller of Life Magazine access to do a cover story on the White House dogs. Published on June 19, 1964, multiple photographs of Him and Her calming and happily sitting on the White House lawn filled the pages.


Perhaps thankful for the Johnson administration for granting him such close access to the dogs, Miller gives us one of the first examples that the ear pulling coverage that was once considered a public relations disaster would throughout the year slowly turn into a positive event. It is entirely possible that Johnson was using Miller to repair his image as a model animal lover while, at the same time, Miller receives more prestige as a reporter. In the caption of one photograph we see that Miller was convinced the dogs enjoyed being picked up by the ears as he writes "it's ear-pulling time again as Him and Her join Luci (left) and her friend, Warri Lynn Smith of Texas, to see President Johnson off from the White House on a trip."34 Countermeasures, as we see, were well underway as Johnson skillfully was using the press as a pawn to win back the vote of animal lovers across the nation. While it may be arguable, I doubt that if Johnson was never lifted Him up on April 27, the June 19 issue of Life would have no mention of the then world famous dogs.

Johnson mastered the media and defused the uproar over the incident because he was keenly aware that rather than letting the press control what they say about him, he would have to control the press. Doris Kerns-Goodwin explains Johnson's expert ability to manipulate the press to his advantage when she writes that he believed a President could lead effectively without the media's support. Kerns-Goodwin also explains that Johnson once said, "Reporters are puppets. They simply respond to the pull of the most powerful strings." Johnson, faced with the dilemma of losing control of the press was in the unfortunate situation of having to get the private story of being a model dog owner into the public discourse replacing what he saw was a misunderstood public. In addition to Johnson, believing he required the press to be on his side to lead, Kerns-Goodwin also explains, "because the president is the object of unrelenting attention and mandatory, coverage,' Johnson was able to use routine procedures as political instruments." Repairing his image as a model dog owner, Johnson's task was by no means routine.35

In the press conference following the incident, Johnson used the role of reporters to his advantage. As Kerns-Goodwin explains, "equating predictability with weakness, Johnson found occasions to deliberately throw reporters off guard."36

On May 6, 1964, Johnson held a Press Conference on the South Lawn and he addressed the incident to the press on live television. Here we see Johnson explaining to the public what he previously mentioned to Mansfield and Humphrey days earlier over the telephone. Johnson reminded the press that the sole fact they have open access to him leaves him susceptible to unnecessary criticism. He explained, "I sometimes think that these press conferences can be conducted just as accurately and perhaps as effectively in the President's office, but I try to give you a variety. As I told you in the beginning, I always want to remain accessible. I hope the press will never be critical of me for being over-accessible."37

While Johnson's damage-control efforts are evident in newspapers across the country, by 1964, as televisions became a staple item in homes across the nation he also made the most of his time on camera to portray himself in a positive fashion to the public. On May 18, 1964, a prime example of the steps Johnson took to improve his popularity was shown in a White House video released to the press. As revealed by the title, "taking the press for a walk," it can be argued that Johnson was using the excessive media coverage of the ear-lifting incident against them as the press was shown following the President while both Him and Her led the way in the walk around the White House lawn.38

On November 2, 1964, just days before the 1964 election, clear evidence is provided that Johnson's countermeasures to win back the approval of animal lovers was a success. As listed in the Washington Post, a group of people assembled watching Johnson campaign held up signs happily declaring they belonged to a loosely assembled group titled “Beagles for Johnson.”39

Johnson, as he repeatedly informed the public throughout the year after the incident, was successful because putting the dogs in the public spotlight incorporated him into his campaign. Had the incident never occurred, it is highly unlikely that the group of beagle supporters would have held up supportive signs.

Bryant offers a behind the scenes account that allows us insights into how Johnson reacted behind the scenes in regards to his actions, the press reports, and the public reaction. In addition to the audio recordings, evidence unveils that Johnson, as Kerns-Goodwin suggests, expressed considerable outrage towards the press and he was frustrated that by picking up Him by the ears in an effort to demonstrate his kinship with the dog it was in his mind twisted by the press to smear him as behind unkind to animals when in actuality he was anything but unfriendly to his beagles.

As attested to in Bryant's memoirs, Johnson continually reiterated to press that picking up his beagles by their ears was good for them and they liked it. Furthermore, he demanded more and more usage of his pets when he was out in public and increasingly Him and Her (only Him after Her's tragic death) eventually meet and greet foreign ambassadors and influential government personal upon arrival at the White House.

By August 13, 1964, as indicated by Dorothy McCardel in her Washington Post article, Johnson had all but won back the approval of animal lovers across the county. As an example, she sensationally explains that "President Johnson got a bigger response when he tweaked the famous ears of his pet beagles, Him and Her, Tuesday than when he made a formal speech on the White House south lawn to 2000 members of a national association of counties."40 In only a matter of months, the shock and anger immediately following the incident no longer existed. Instead, Johnson attempts to win back the approval and votes of dog lovers across the county proceeding smoothly. By using the press to his advantage, he turned what the public saw as a negative to a positive. Even though, and perhaps unbeknownst to most people, lifting adult beagles up by their ears is not good for the dogs, the people had been convinced otherwise.

As demonstrated by the AP report of Him's death, due credit is given to both the incident as well as the bond shared with Johnson. This is not to say that the incident should go unmentioned, as indeed it was a newsworthy event in the days and weeks that followed, but reducing a dog's life to only one incident is too concise, simplistic, and lacking of the full story of the dogs life.

The United Press International (UPI) provides the most detailed report of Him's death on June 16, 1966. The write up as written in the Los Angeles times mentions that earlier Him's Sister, Her, died on November 27, 1964 when she swallowed a large stone. Prior to briefly mentioning the close relationship Him shared with Johnson, the ear-lifting controversy materializes eclipsed the bond shared between the two as the paper wrote "it was Him and Her who were involved in the famous ear-pulling episode (and) loud outcries were heard later from animal protection associations."41 As I indicated early, Johnson only picked Him up by the ears on April 27, 1964. Therefore, the UPI article contains incorrect information.

The New York Times on the same day also could not leave out mentioning the incident as again the obituary reminded readers that Johnson once faced criticism from dog fanciers who disproved of him picking Him up by his ears.42

Her also had her life unfairly minimized for the incident. When she died on November 28, 1964, although the only three-paragraph article mentions that Johnson's daughter Luci was heartbroken, it gives mention that earlier in the year, she became internationally famous because of the ear incident.43

On the Lyndon Johnson library website, it is perplexing that the sole website devoted to providing information about the President only has a picture of the incident and reduces the legacy of the two dogs down to one day.44 A more accurate remembrance for Him and Her, in my opinion, would be to show the two beagles as appearing on the cover of the June 19, 1964, edition of Life.

Other websites devoted to presidential pets most often give little mention that Him and Her were known for anything other than being picked up by their ears. For example, the site www.presidentialpetmuseum.com does recognize that Him and Her became national celebrities when they appeared in Life magazine. Nonetheless, it mentions that when Him was picked up by his ears, hundreds of phone calls, telegrams, and letters all came expressing anger towards the president.45

Other historical works on Johnson also only mention the ear-lifting incident and do not recognize the agency of the close relationship that surely aided the president emotionally throughout his presidency. For example, in Robert Dallek's Johnson biography, throughout his entire work he only devotes one paragraph to the incident while citing the phone conversation Johnson had with Mansfield afterwards.46

David Shreve writes that the episode was a public relations disaster and after the New York Times ran a full story, the incident "reinforced stereotypes of Johnson as a provincial simpleton from a backwards region." Shreve, however, embellishes and inaccurately believes that the incident was only disastrous as in the aftermath it "had a lasting negative effort on public perceptions of Johnson as a person." Furthermore, indicates that the countermeasures Johnson's countermeasures took to correct his image by lifting the dogs up again by their ears were "a foolish attempt to prove that it did not hurt the animals."47 A more detailed study of the incident would reveal however, evidence points to the contrary.

White House historical literature about Presidential to this day most frequently associate and minimize the life of Him and Her down to the one incident. As an example, in the educational materials for teachers section of the historical website www.whitehousehistory.com, a short article about presidential pets only gives mentions that Him and Her as being at the center of the “great ear lift” and while Johnson did not lift the dogs up the dangle the “spectacle sparked outraged protests from dog-lovers.48

A survey of the scholarly literature existing about Presidential pets also unveils that (while also summarizing Him and Her's life down to one day) some scholars view the incident as being a metaphor that reflects negatively on Johnson's personality. For instance, Elinor Brecher argues that the incident and scandal that followed “seemed an apt metaphor for Johnson's manhandling political methods."49

Instructional materials for proper beagle care today also give mention to the incident although it is of no value to readers. The previously discussed “dummies guide” book by McCullough provides us with a prime example that Johnson's ear-lifting actions appear frequently in works where the incident is irrelevant to the material included. As evident in McCullough's work, the ear-lifting incident has became so famous and commonplace that the President was “shamed” and even in beagle instructional books now give mention to the famous incident. Her interpretation of the incident was that the president “was shamed” and that "a beagle (Him) demonstrated to no less than a president that a dog's ears are not designed to be handles." As evidence, she provides a link directly to the Johnson presidential library website where even there it states that the incident "triggered a storm of protests."50

While Johnson biographers and historians only tend to mention the ear incident, they do not dig deeper into the incident and research more from Him's caretaker Traphes Bryant despite the fact that he offers the most extensive account of the incident. Indeed, rather than focusing on the incident itself and that it effected the president's image negatively, he believes otherwise. Regarding the photo that appeared on cover of Life, Bryant mentions, "I don't know how much credit LBJ's dogs received for his reelection to the Presidency, but I believe they deserved a lot." It is natural to believe that Bryant perhaps made himself out to be the hero of his own story. However, contrary to many people's beliefs, his belief is surely accurate as others close to Johnson support his claim.

Shortly after Her's death, over three-hundred people offered dogs to the president. The offerings of strangers to provide Johnson with their own dogs demonstrate he had won over the approval of dog lovers across the nation. The actions of the American people, by December, are revealing because in April when the story drew outrage across the county people surely would not trust their dog with Johnson. However, less than a year later, people were aware of Him and Her because they were first introduced to most of the public due to the initial incident on April 27, 1964. But, secondly from being placed in the spotlight and incorporated into his campaign instead of hidden from the public eye, people were able to draw a closer connection to Johnson as a caring person who after having his image as an animal owner corrected, made people trust Johnson not only with dogs in general, but their dogs.51

Bryant's work demonstrates in vivid detail the privileged life that Him lived. He claims that as the bond between Johnson, Him, and Her increased so too did the bond between Johnson and animal lovers across the nation.52

George Reedy, recalls that indeed the incident and his account collaborates that Johnson actually benefited from the incident. Johnson “disliked Doug Cornell at the time he was with the White House. Doug wrote the story about his pulling the dogs' ears; but he later concluded that story actually helped him, which I think it did. And I believe he and Doug get along reasonably well now."53

On Christmas day of 1964 while relaxing and enjoying the holiday at the LBJ ranch in Stonewall, TX, perhaps the greatest evidence proving that Him aided Johnson in his reelection campaign was spoken by the President himself. Johnson, likely aware that the incident would likely stay with him for the rest of his life, once again picked Him up by his ears. Surprisingly, the photographer who snapped the first and most infamous picture of Johnson, Douglas Cornell, was present on that day. Johnson, rather than giving Cornell the silent treatment as he claimed he would do eight months earlier, amazingly expressed his gratitude and insisted that photographers get a picture of him and the reporter both holding the dog's ears. As pictures snapped, Johnson gave credit and mentioned to Cornell “you may not get a Pulitzer Prize, but you got me a lot of votes.” 54

When Douglas Cornell passed away at the age of 75 on February 20, 1982, the AP printed his obituary and newspapers that included the story printed two sentences briefly summarizing his career as a Presidential reporter. Although his career spanned decades and he produced a sizable amount stories shown around the world, the ear-lifting incident surprisingly is centerpiece in his obituary. As printed, “Mr. Cornell saw President Johnson pick up his pet beagle dog by the ears, and the resulting story rallied dog lovers everywhere.” Let us recall, however, that while Johnson was originally infuriated with Cornell for publishing his story, the obituary gave credit that his relationship with the president was reconciled. As demonstrated in the December 25, 1964, article, Johnson eventually thanked Cornell for his role in improving his image throughout the year. As a result, Johnson was able to win back the approval of animal lovers and as a result, “’Beagles for Johnson' clubs sprang up all over America after Mr. Johnson went to some lengths to prove his beagles liked being picked up by the ears and weren't hurt at all.”55

Just one day later, we see that Johnson would never be able to escape the incident. For example, the editor of the Gastonia Gazette used the caption of “here we go again” underneath the AP photograph taken showing Johnson and Cornell together petting the dog.56

It is safe to assume that in the future eventually a similar incident such as Johnson experienced will occur. As demonstrated in my paper, when any popular figure is portrayed in a negative fashion handling animals, they can read the information contained herein and turn a seemingly a negative, embarrassing, and regretful moment into a positive experience if they efforts (as Johnson did) to invoke countermeasures to prove that they are model dog owners.


1 LBJ Library: President Johnson's Dogs, Accessed February, 2014, http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/faqs/dog/doghouse.asp.
2 Traphes Bryant with Frances Spatz Leighton, Dog Days at the White House: From Truman to Nixon: The Outrageous Memoirs of the Presidential Kennel Keeper (New York, Ishi Press, 2010), 166-167.
3 “Lyndon Saddened by 'Him's' Death,” Laurel Leader-Call, June 16, 1966, 1.
4 George D. Whitney, This is the Beagle (New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, 1955), 143.
5 William D. Denlinger, The Complete Beagle (Richmond: Delinger's, 1956), 63.
6 Denlinger, 72.
7 Susan McCullough, Beagles for Dummies (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2007), 84.
8 “Good for Them? LBJ Dog Lifting Raises Eyebrows,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 28, 1964, 1.
9 Ralph McGill, “LBJ and Beagles,” The Maryland Morning Herald, May 3, 1964, 1.
10 “LBJ Up to His Own Ears in Critics of Dog Ethics,” The Washington Post, April 29, 1964, A2.
11 Ibid.
12 “Doggone It, Lyndon!” The News Tribune, April 28, 1964, 3.
13 Ibid.
14 Coren, 278.
15 “The Letter Page: Dog Lovers Reaching Ear of President,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1964, B4.
16 Bill Williams, “On Mending Fences, Being Picked Up By One's Ears,” Gastonia Gazette, May 3, 1964, 5D.
17 “A Beagle's Bugle,” Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1964. 16.
18 Walter Trohan, “Report From Washington: Johnson's Popularity a Political Phenomenon,” Chicago Tribune, May 2, 1964, 6.
19 Tom Wicker, “Johnson's Evangelism: The President's Way of Doing Things is Compared with Kennedy's Way,” New York Times, May 3, 1964, E11.
20 Robert Wallace, “L.B.J.'s Controversial Dog Lift: The President Heists His Beagles by the Ears,” Life, May 8, 1964, 34-34a.
21 Johnson Tapes, Phone Conversation: George Reedy to Lyndon Johnson, April 28, 1964, MP3 Digital Recording. http://web2.millercenter.org/lbj/audiovisual/whrecordings/telephone/conversations/1964/lbj_wh6404_14_3170.mp3.
22 David Shreve, Lyndon B. Johnson: Towards the Great Society, February 1, 1964 – May 31, 1964 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 336.
23 Phone Conversation: Mike Mansfield to Lyndon Johnson, April 29, 1964, Johnson Tapes: Presidential Recordings Program, Miller Center: University of Virginia, Johnson Tapes: Presidential Recordings Program. Miller Center: University of Virginia. http://whitehousetapes.net/recordings-collection/johnson-tapes. MP3 Digital Recording: http://web2.millercenter.org/lbj/audiovisual/whrecordings/telephone/conversations/1964/lbj_wh6404_15_3183.mp3, (audio files are also available in .WAV format with somewhat improved sound quality).
24 Johnson Tapes, Phone Conversation: Hubert H. Humphrey to Lyndon Johnson, May 5, 1964, MP3 Digital Recording. http://web2.millercenter.org/lbj/audiovisual/whrecordings/telephone/conversations/1964/lbj_wh6405_01_3323.mp3.
25 David Lawrence, “President's Image is Important to People: Folksy LBJ Needs Dignity, Too,” Wisconsin State Journal, May 6, 1964, sec. 1, 10.
26 “Johnson Joins Humane Society,” Washington Post, May 7, 1964, A14.
27 “Critics Play by Ear,” Laurel Leader-Call, July 21, 1964, 4.
28 Denlinger, Whitney, and McCullough, (All three books make no mention that the longer a beagle's ears are the better it's chances winning a dog show. However, I will concede to the probability that some dog shows place an emphasis on, and award, beagles with longer ears).
29 Robert J. Donovan, “President has Picnic-Type Press Meeting,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1964, 26.
30 “The Johnson Luck Factor,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1964, E6.
31 George Gallup, “Johnson's Public Image Rated Highly,” Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1964, L1.
32 Alvin Spivak, “Johnson's Stroll With Tourists; Beagles Delight all but Scotty: 'Yipe',” The Washington Post, July 27, 1964, A2.
33 Douglas B. Cornell, “After Six Months LBJ is Confident,” Laurel Leader-Call, May 22, 1964, 16.
34 Francis Miller, “L.B.J.'s Beagles,” Life, June 16, 1964, 68a-72.
35 Doris Kerns-Goodwin, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1991). 246-247.
36 Ibid, 249.
37 Transcript: White House Press Conference, May 6, 1964, http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/5902.
38 “President Exercises Pressmen,” Archived White House Press Release Video, May 18, 1964, http://www.britishpathe.com/video/president-exercises-pressmen/query/Lyndon.
39 Richard Corrigan, “Parade, Rally Whip Up Voter Enthusiasm Here: They All Watch,” Washington Post, November 2, 1964, A12.
40 Dorothy McCardle, “Ear-Pulling Goes Over Better than Ear-Bending,” Washington Post, August 13, 1964, E3.
41 “Tearful Lynda Breaks News: Johnson's Dog Killed by Car,” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1966, 1.
42 “Him, Johnson Beagle, Killed by White House Car,” New York Times, June 16, 1966, 14.
43 “One of President's Beagles is Dead,” Washington Post, November, 29, 1964. A12.
44 LBJ Library: President Johnson's Dogs, Accessed February, 2014, http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/faqs/dog/doghouse.asp.
45 Lyndon Johnson Beagles, Him and Her, Presidential Pet Museum, July 22, 2003, http://presidentialpetmuseum.com/pets/him-her/ (Originally, the article mentioned that the ear-lifting incident first occurred in June of 1964 and once the photographs were printed in Life the public outrage ensured. However, in the comments section on the website, I posted a correction that the incident originally occurred on April, 27, 1964. Just over an hour later, the website made the correction.).
46 Robert Dallek, Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1964-1973 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 125.
47 Shreve, 231.
48 Top Dogs at the White House, “Classroom Educational Materials,” White House Historical Association, Accessed March, 2014, http://www.whitehousehistory.org/history/documents/WHHA-History-Top-Dogs.pdf.
49 Elinor J. Brecher, “Presidential Dogs,” Nieman Reports, Spring 2009. http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/100989/Presidential-Dogs.aspx.
50 McCullough, 250.
51 “Beagle Flown to Johnson is not Accepted,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1964, B4.
52 Bryant, 120.
53 George Reedy, Interview by T.H. Baker, LBJ Library, December 19, 1968, 40. http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/oralhistory.hom/Reedy/reedy%20web%201b.pdf.
54 “LBJ Plays with Beagle,” The Fresno Bee Republican, December 25, 1964, 6.
55 Obituary: Douglas Cornell: AP Writer who Covered White House and Nation's Capital for 36 years,” Toledo Blade, February 21, 1982, 8.
56 “Here We Go Again,” Gastonia Gazette, December 26, 1964, 1.


Primary Sources

"A Beagle's Bugle." Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1964, 16.
"Beagle Flown to Johnson is not Accepted." Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1964, B4.
Bryant, Traphes with Leighton, Frances Spatz. Dog Days at the White House: From Truman to Nixon: The Outrageous Memoirs of the Presidential Kennel Keeper. New York: Ishi Press, 2010.
Cornell, Douglas B. "After Six Months LBJ is Confident." Laurel Leader-Call. May 22, 1964, 16.
Corrigan, Richard. "Parade, Rally Whip Up Voter Enthusiasm Here: They All Watch." Washington Post, November 2, 1964. A12.
"Critics Play by Ear." Laurel Leader-Call, July 21, 1964, 4.
Donovan, Robert J. "President has Picnic-Type Press Meeting." Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1964, 16.
“Doggone It, Lyndon!.” The News Tribune, April 28, 1964, 3.
Gallup, George. "Johnson's Public Image Rated Highly." Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1964, L1.
"Good for Them? LBJ Dog Lifting Raises Eyebrows." Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 28, 1964, 1.
“Here We Go Again.” AP Photograph. Gastonia Gazette, December 26, 1964, 1.
“Him, Johnson Beagle, Killed by White House Car.” New York Times, June 16, 1966, 14.
“Johnson Joins Humane Society.” Washington Post, May 7, 1964, A14.
Johnson Tapes: Presidential Recordings Program. Miller Center: University of Virginia. http://whitehousetapes.net/recordings-collection/johnson-tapes.
Lawrence, David. “President's Image Is Important to People: Folksy LBJ Needs Dignity, Too.” Wisconsin State Journal, May 6, 1964, sec. 1, 10.
“LBJ Plays with Beagle.” The Fresno Bee Republican, December 25, 1964, 6.
“LBJ Up to His Own Ears In Critics of Dog Ethics.” The Washington Post, April 28, 1964, A2.
“Lyndon Saddened By 'Him's' Death.” Laurel Leader-Call, June 16, 1966, 1.
McCardle, Dorothy. “Ear-Pulling Goes Over Better than Ear-Bending.” Washington Post, August 13, 1964, E3.
McGill, Ralph. “LBJ and Beagles.” The Maryland Morning Herald. May 3, 1964. 1.
Miller, Francis. "L.B.J.'s Beagles." Life, June 19, 1964, 68a-72.
Obituary: Douglas Cornell: AP Writer who Covered White House and Nation's Capital for 36 Years. Toledo Blade, February 21, 1982, 8.
“One of President's Beagles is Dead.” Washington Post, November 29, 1964, A12.
"President Exercises Pressmen." Archived White House Press Release Video. May 18, 1964. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/president-exercises-pressmen/query/Lyndon.
Reedy, George. Interview by T.H. Baker. LBJ Library, December 19, 1968. http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/oralhistory.hom/Reedy/reedy%20web%201b.pdf.
Spivak, Alvin. "Johnson's Stroll With Tourists; Beagles Delight All but Scotty: 'Yipe'.” Washington Post, July 27, 1964, A2.
“Tearful Lynda Breaks News: Johnson's Dog Killed by Car.” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1966, 1.
"The Johnson Luck Factor." Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1964, E6.
"The Letter Page: Dog Lovers Reaching Ear of President." Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1964, B4.
Transcript: White House Press Conference. May 6, 1964. http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/5902.
Trohan, Walter. "Report From Washington: Johnson's Popularity a Political Phenomenon." Chicago Tribune, May 2, 1964, 6.
Wallace, Robert. "L.B.J.'s Controversial Dog Lift: The President Heists His Beagles by the Ears." Life, May 8, 1964, 34-34a.
Wicker, Tom. "Johnson's Evangelism: The President's Way of Doing Things Is Compared with Kennedy's Way." New York Times, May 3, 1964, E11.
Williams, Bill. "On Mending Fences, Being Picked Up By One's Ears." Gastonia Gazette, May 3, 1964, 5D.

Secondary Sources

Brecher, Elinor J. "Presidential Dogs." Nieman Reports, Spring 2009. http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/100989/Presidential-Dogs.aspx.
Coren, Stanley. The Pawprints of History: Dogs in the Course of Human Events. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Dallek, Robert. Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1964-1973. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Denlinger. William D. The Complete Beagle. Richmond: Denlinger's, 1956.
Kerns-Goodwin, Doris. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written. 8th ed. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1991.
LBJ Library: President Johnson's Dogs. Accessed February, 2014. http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/faqs/dog/doghouse.asp.
Lyndon Johnson Beagles, Him and Her. Presidential Pet Museum. July 22, 2013. http://presidentialpetmuseum.com/pets/him-her/.
McCullough, Susan. Beagles for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2007.
Shreve, David. Lyndon B. Johnson: Towards the Great Society, February 1, 1964 - May 31, 1964. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.
Top Dogs at the White House. “Classroom Educational Material,” White House Historical Association. Accessed March, 2014. http://www.whitehousehistory.org/history/documents/WHHA-History-Top-Dogs.pdf.
Whitney, George D. This is the Beagle. New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, 1955.

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