I heard about Buddy’s accidental and pre-mature death (he was only 41/2) with an especially profound sadness and empathy. It was the kind of reaction that one can ONLY understand if he or she has, or has had, a Labrador Retriever companion–a reaction that spans the spectrum of politics as even the most fervent anti-Clintonite will agree.
I was especially close to this story because my lovable Black Lab went to that big kennel in the sky last October. The grandchildren had named her Riva for some unknown reason except that I guess it just sounded good. She was everybody’s friend and her favorite activity after retrieving a tennis ball was playing “tugboat” in the lake with small-fry kids. She liked to pull them along on their floats as they hung onto her tail. While Buddy and Socks, the White House cat, did not get along—Riva and Sam, the Seamans cat, lived as kindred souls and often slept together.
Riva had an extraordinary ability to sense one’s feellngs. It was uncanny how she knew when, for some reason beyond Prozac, that I was depressed and without bidding she would put her head in my lap or lay down on my feet—the very essence of the word companion. I often accused her of really being a person dressed in Lab’s clothing.
Buddy was a chocolate Lab who was given President Clinton just before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke out. Thereafter, I think we could say that Buddy became Clinton’s closest companion other than his daughter, Chelsea—and one of the President’s few loyal friends. How so very right President Truman was when he said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” I think he could have said, “Get a Labrador Retriever.”
Around the White House Buddy endeared himself to the Press Corps. If you perused last Sunday’s New York Times Op-Ed page you would have seen Buddy remembered by former White House speechwriter John Pollock. He wrote that while Buddy might not have been the smartest pooch in the world, he certainly was full of love and loyalty.
As the smog of scandal enveloped President Clinton, Buddy became his almost constant companion. He was even allowed to sleep on a couch in the Oval Office. Buddy was playful and mischievous—he once tried to chew up a copy of a presidential speech and he could reach the community box of donuts next to the coffee pot in the press room.
The affection the press had for Buddy was reflected in the Times, which noted that “he didn’t let fame go to his head” and “he stood by Bill Clinton through scandal and a new home.” And around that new home in Chappaqua, New York, Buddy’s friendly charisma endeared him to the locals who, according to a Times reporter more often delighted in saying “I just saw Buddy” rather than “I just saw Bill or Hillary.” Buddy was so popular with kids around the country that he received sacks of fan mail, which he answered with postcards signed with his paw print.
I was doubly saddened when I heard Rush Limbaugh, who represents himself as the voice of Conservatism, turn the death of Buddy into another of Limbaugh’s anti-Clinton polemics with the kind of ridicule he calls humor. He alleged that Clinton acquired Buddy as the result of a poll on how to repair his image, especially during those White House helicopter arrival and departure photo-op scenes. Limbaugh did not mention that President Bush has two dogs.
But I really wasn’t angered. As I thought about Buddy and Riva romping together in the afterworld of beloved canine companions, I could only feel sorry for Mr. Limbaugh who obviously knows not the love of a good Lab.
This is Bill Seamans.
–Bill Seamans is an award-winning journalist and a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.