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Dog days of politics -- a canine conversation

Hon. Lucky Reagan The First Dog Western White House Santa Barbara, Calif. Dear Lucky: EVERY American feels free to write and advise the President, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I, a fellow dog, dropped you a letter with a dog's-eye view of how you and your master are doing. I am a Labrador retriever living in a New England seacoast town with my journalist ``master.'' Actually, we dogs pretty much run our households and our ``masters'' are really our ``slaves,'' but it is good politics to let them think they are boss. Especially if one of them is the President of the United States.

I am generally pretty satisfied with your -- I mean the President's -- administration. I get two square meals a day (in a round dog dish), and I can't say as I'm missing anything.

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On the foreign front, apart from an occasional eruption as my master sees somebody somewhere doing something he doesn't approve of, life is fairly tranquil.

My owners are not what you would call exercise zealots, so fortunately I don't have to do this jogging routine that some poor dogs have to go through with their masters each day. Some owners don't seem to understand that dogs are basically opposed to running for the sake of exercise. Dogs run to chase squirrels (knowing they'll never catch one), and to fetch old tennis balls, and sticks, and sometimes Frisbees, but they're much too smart to run for mere exercise.

Anyway, I'm doing less wandering and am staying home watching more television these days, and that's really why I'm writing.

I've been watching you, Lucky, coming home from Camp David each weekend and, if I may say so without being disrespectful, I think your performance leaves a little to be desired. When you were a puppy, it was kind of cute to see this black sheepdoggy character pulling Mrs. Reagan all over the White House lawn. But now you're full-grown, and it's getting out of hand. Why, the other weekend we saw a picture of you tugging Mrs. Reagan away from the reporters while the President was trying to talk to them. T he first thing a First Dog should learn is never to upstage the President. Meanwhile, you're fostering this image of a presidential entourage undisciplined and out of control. And goodness knows, we don't need that image fostered just now. During these -- pardon the expression -- dog days of summer, the image the President is battling is one of drift and lost initiative.

I know that dogs in politics don't have it easy. The Roosevelt dog always had to watch its profile, and the Nixon dog got caught up in campaign mudslinging. Lyndon Johnson humiliated his dogs by holding them up by the ears on camera. I don't remember whether Jimmy Carter had a First Dog, but if he did the poor pooch was upstaged by that giant rabbit that attacked the presidential rowboat one day. George Bush's dog either has chutzpah or lousy timing -- he's written his memoirs even before getting to the

White House.

Then there's always the Secret Service messing around, probably checking you for bugs, not the natural kind, but the ones the Soviets are always trying to plant.

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So we know that life in the White House isn't always a rose garden. As a matter of fact, they may not even let you in the rose garden.

But Lucky, we hope that you and the rest of the White House team can use this holiday out at the ranch to get things together for the fall.

When you come back, I'd like to see you on the White House lawn poised, alert, on the team, listening quietly to the President. Even if you're in charge, make it look as though he's in charge. That's the role of a First Dog.

Otherwise those Secret Service guys are going to nail you to toe marks on the lawn. All four of them. Happy holiday, Honey Hughes

John Hughes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was assistant secretary of state from 1982 to 1984.

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