National Dog Day: Pushinka, Soviet Dog in the Kennedy White House

National Dog Day: Pushinka, Soviet Dog in the Kennedy White House

In honor of National Dog Day, August 26, here is the story of a Soviet dog who may have changed the world.

Pushinka posing on the White House lawn Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs

Pushinka posing on the White House lawn
Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Space DogPushinka’s mother, Strelka, was a cosmonaut, one half of the first pair to orbit the earth and return.

Strelka and her colleague, Belka, stray mutts from the streets of Moscow, were lifted to glory aboard Korabl-Sputnik 2 on August 19, 1960, orbiting the earth for 24 hours before safely touching down. Both the little dogs were fêted and promised a lifetime supply of sausage when they returned from space, but only one subsequently gave birth to a famous puppy. Pushinka was born to Strelka (Little Arrow) and another would-be cosmonaut, Pushok.

White House DogSoon after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev chatted about Strelka’s pups with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at a state dinner, he sent one of the pups to the Kennedys, with his compliments. Pushinka (Fluffy), daughter of Moscow street dogs turned space dogs, became an official White House pet, with her own personal handlers (but not until getting thoroughly checked for spyware by the FBI).

Pushinka arrives at the White House and meets Charlie, the Kennedy's Welsh terrier Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Pushinka arrives at the White House and meets Charlie, the Kennedy’s Welsh terrier – she’s being a little stand-offish
Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Kennedy and Khrushchev, in spite of Cold War tensions, were regular correspondents and occasionally sent each other presents. Pushinka was a thoughtful gift, an adorable pup who constantly reminded Kennedy that the Soviet Union was far ahead of the U.S. in the Space Race.

She arrived a month after Yuri Gagarin made his historic space flight.

Kennedy graciously accepted the reminder, responding,

“Mrs. Kennedy and I were particularly pleased to receive ‘Pushinka.’ Her flight from the Soviet Union to the United States was not as dramatic as the flight of her mother, nevertheless, it was a long voyage and she stood it well. We both appreciate your remembering these matters in your busy life.”

Matriarch DogPushinka won over the residents of the White House, especially Kennedy’s Welsh terrier, Charlie, who was happy to have such a feisty companion. The four-legged friends produced a litter of chubby brown puppies several years later. It was these pups (called “pupniks” by the president) who brought the Strelka/Pushinka lineage into the public domain. 5,000 people wrote to the Kennedys asking to raise one of the presidential pups. Jacqueline Kennedy picked two kids from the Midwest to care for two of them, and the others went to her East coast family. It is very possible that there are dogs today in Massachusetts, Missouri and Illinois who have Russian space-dog blood running through their veins.

Pushinka and per 'pupnicks'<br>Photo: Cecil Stoughton, White House Photographs<br>John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Pushinka and her ‘pupniks’
Photo: Cecil Stoughton, White House Photographs
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Hero DogIt’s also possible that we have Pushinka to thank for keeping us out of World War Three. Historian Martin Sandler, author of the 2013 book The Letters of John F. Kennedy, believes that the friendly correspondence between Khrushchev and Kennedy (and yes, the gifts they exchanged, including little Pushinka) laid the groundwork for the two leaders to be able to come to an agreement – via letters – that ended the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Sandler writes, “In the end, that’s what saved the world from nuclear destruction.”

Happy National Dog Day!

 

(Top Photo: The top dogs in the Kennedy White House, Charlie and Pushinka; Credit: Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

PUBLISHED: August 23, 2016

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