Truman and the ‘Get a dog’ quote—or nonquote

image Did Harry Truman really say, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog”? Or maybe “buy a dog”?

In The Solomon Scandals, an eloquent Afghan named Thackeray II quotes that line in a Truman act at the Cosmos Club.

But he gets corrected by Prof. Rebecca Kitiona-Fenton, author of the foreword and afterword of the faux memoirs in the book.The quote and a predecessor are in fact problematic—the Harry S. Truman library couldn’t find anything before playwright Samuel Gallu used, “You want a friend in life, get a DOG!” in a 1975 play. Dramatic license? But who knows? Maybe someone can surprise the Truman Library and find that the quote is authentic. But at this point I won’t bet on it.

imageThe New York Times, a spreader of the quote, really should consider a retraction. Over the years, the line or similar ones have been popping up there in such places as Maureen Dowd’s column. Both the Truman library and Ralph Keyes, author of The Quote Verifier, mentioned Ms. Dowd’s 1989 use of the quote. Bill Clinton also spread it.

So far the earliest use of the dog quote with “Washington” in it—at least the oldest I’ve found at this point—has seemingly come from former-senator Nancy Kassebaum. When I get a moment I intend to catch up with her to see where she saw the words.

Note: This post originally appeared on Nov. 29, 2008.

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David Rothman

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