“Liberty,” Gerald Ford’s beautiful dark golden, was bred by Avis Friberg of Excelsior, Minnesota. Today, we would call her a field line golden, but she was actually from champion conformation stock that were also used for work. Her sire was Am. Ch. Honor’s Let ‘Em Have It CD WC OS, and her paternal grandsire was Am. Dual Ch. AFC Ronakers Novato Cain CD OS FDHF.
Here’s a photo of her sire, whose call name was “Bang”:
These dogs were of Midwestern extraction. Minnesota is not far from the northern edge of the Central Flyway, which many species of waterfowl use as a migration route. Further, the southern parts of Minnesota are good pheasant lands, as are its western reaches, which border on the Dakotas. Golden retrievers in this area were traditionally bred as workers, not show dogs. Even today, there are large numbers of similar goldens in this part of the world that are primarily working dogs. Red and dark gold color are de riguer among these dogs, along with more moderate feathering and bone. They are classic working goldens.
I’m sure that President Ford loved his dog. His family raised a litter out of Liberty, and one of the puppies became a guide dog. The puppies were widely publicized on television, first as tiny whelps and then rolly little puppies. Such images seem innocuous now, but they really set within the mind of the American public several rather dangerous thoughts.
Among these thoughts were that goldens were cute as puppies. There’s no denying this. They mature into pretty adults (especially field-bred ones– they have an elegance that few other retrievers possess, save the flat-coat). And these dogs are easy to train as great family pets for the kids and even be trained into guide dogs.
Now, I won’t deny that these ideas are true, provided you know that goldens have some disadvantages. They shed like they’re going bald. Field-bred goldens (and they all basically were field bred at this time) can become obsessive about using their motor predator motor patterns. If not given proper mental stimulation an d training to focus their brains, they can learn to renovate your house just as easily as they can learn to be an assistance dog.
Partly because of those images, goldens became very popular as pets and show dogs. Working ability and working conformation took a back seat. The somewhat golden’s truncated gene pool was soon strained, as all sorts of knuckleheads and faddists began to breed the dogs. By mid-1990′s, all sorts of genetic disorders, including the appearance of unheard of behavioral problems like aggression, began to surface in the breed.
Now, we don’t generally think of President Ford as the most popular president in US history. However, his selection of Liberty as a pet had massive ramifications for the golden retriever. Its popularity, which had been steadily rising since the Second World War, suddenly took off.
I don’t fault Ford for choosing the golden. He had actually had two before, and he loved those dogs. This particular dog was actually a surprise present for him, but the family knew the breed well. It was not like they surprised him with a dog breed with which he had no familiarity This was a breed very near and dear to their hearts. In fact, his daughter currently has a pack of goldens, including a dog that descends from Liberty.
Gerald Ford’s choice of this breed was an important step toward the hyper-popularity of this breed. And popularity can be a disaster for breeds that don’t have a lot of genetic diversity. Right now, goldens are beginning to experience the real problems that come from breeding for fads and novelties, like heavy bone and extreme pale coat color. To get to the white Newfoundland-type golden, you have to narrow the gene pool as you cull out the setter-like golden. That further exacerbates genetic diversity issues and increases the chances of genetic disorders.
It doesn’t really bother people that Liberty was a good dog because she came good stock that were used as working dogs and shown on a working dog standard. Most people want goldens now because they represent the American dream– a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a golden retriever. They like the idea of the dog more than the reality of the organism, so breeders bred away from what is functional and what made the golden a good dog in the first place. And that’s the sad aspect behind the phenomenon that is colloquially known as over-breeding. The Fords really loved their goldens as they were, so I hate to know what they would think of many of the dogs that are now called golden retrievers. I think they would feel a deep guilt for having helped catapult this breed to such heights of popularity, and being true golden fans, they probably would hate the fickle faddishness that had wrecked golden retriever’s health and type since then.
Now, what does this tell us about the current president’s choice for a dog for his family? It tells us that he’s got to be careful about which dog breed he chooses, because there is now a political network of various sorts of politically correct dog owners, who will through histrionic fits if a certain dog is chosen. He has said that he has narrowed his choices to a planned hybrid– goldendoodle or Labradoodle– or a Portuguese water dog. Portuguese water dogs have a more narrowed genetic base than golden retrieves have. My guess is that the Portuguese water dog won’t survive a massive upsurge in popularity. It doesn’t have the genetic base to handle all the knuckleheads who are going to breed these dogs for a buck, if Obama chooses one.
Doodles are also a fad dog, and lots of knuckleheads are breeding them right now. However, they are more genetically diverse than the Portuguese water dog. But they are mill dogs, bred in mass quantities by knuckleheads and schemers, who really don’t care about their dogs. I’m sure there are lots of doodles that bite, lots of doodles that are blind, and lots of doodles with terrible hips. Most doodles don’t come from intelligent breeding programs, and if the president chose one of those, the doodle market would become even more lucrative, although I highly suspect that the market right now is coming close to being saturated with poor quality doodles.
President Obama is in a really bad position when it comes to choosing a dog, because either of these dogs is going to unleash anger from the politically correct dog people. To make matters worse, Michelle Obama has said they want to rescue a dog, but it has to be low shed, because Malia has allergies to dogs. If you can divine a perfect dog that meets all of these criteria and doesn’t have the issues of a doodle or a Portuguese water dog, you are smarter than I am. My only suggestion is that he rescue a standard poodle, but then he’s already said he doesn’t want a “girly dog.” This public statement further limits his choices. (I hardly think a standard poodle is a “girly dog,” though.)
Somehow, I think President Obama wishes that he had the advantages Gerald Ford had. Ford already knew his chosen breed, and he chose it because it fit with him best. In those days, no one would throw a fit about which breed the president chose. President Obama is choosing a dog that has to please so many different constituencies and fit so many other criteria that I don’t think that any breed or hybrid meets his criteria.
Someone will get ticked off when Obama chooses a dog. There is no way to avoid it. He might as well choose it now and let the volleys of invective fly.