Say what you will about Ted Kennedy or Democrats or politics, but that man loved his dogs. They were with him in the Senate and on his boat and in his home. Those Portuguese Water Dogs of Kennedy's were his constant companions. Dogs have lost a dear and loving friend. This man, often called the Lion of the Senate, was a pushover for those high energy, curly-haired companions of his. It was said that you would often see him outside the Senate hitting tennis balls for his beloved dogs in an effort to gain relief from the tense atmosphere often found in elective office. It wasn't often that you would see the Senator without 2-3 leashes and a water dog on the other end. (My words)
You may think you know Ted Kennedy after 40 years in the Senate and enough speeches to fill the Library of Congress. But you haven't seen him play fetch with the inspiration for his new children's book.
Washington insiders know better than to get between Ted Kennedy and his Portuguese water dog, Splash, who tails the senator all around Capitol Hill. (Globe Photo / Chris Hartlove)
Susan Milligan, 2006
I hope you weren't thinking this was going to be an easy interview because it's about your dog. So let's start with the tough question: Isn't it true you stole Splash from your wife?
That's unfair. But probably true.
He was, originally, a gift for Mrs. Vicki Kennedy. Where did you get him?
I had dogs all my life, but Patrick [Kennedy's son, now a congressman from Rhode Island] is a chronic asthmatic. He's allergic to everything. We looked at this kind of dog, because he's non-allergic. I looked at the small dogs, the puppies, and the breeder said, "Let me show you what the dog will look like when he grows up." I knew, once we went out to take a look at Splash [named by a previous owner], it was going to be all over. He said Splash wasn't for sale, but I agreed to take care of him when they weren't breeding him, so he said, "You've got a deal." Four months later, they decided they weren't going to breed him.
Then you started taking Splash to the office. How did you square that with Mrs. Kennedy?
Well, Vicki thought I was taking Splash away, and she wanted to have a dog, so we got Sunny, one of Splash's great-nieces. Then Vicki said, "We don't want them separated. They'll get lonely." So I bring both of them in. [Sunny was not in the office the day of this interview.]
What made you decide to write a children's book?
Do you want to see a trick?
Splash, Susan would like to see the ball, if you would show it to her. Can you show me the ball? Will you show me the ball? Splash. Please. SPLASH. Will you show me the ball? Come on, come on, show me the ball. Thank you. You know I want that ball, and you know I want that ball now. SPLASH. Please. Now you know I want that ball, and you're not going to give the ball to me? Come on, come on. Look. Show it to ME. Where are you going with that ball? Why are you teasing me? You know I want that ball more than anything in the world. Well, I guess you won't let me see it.
Oh, he came back. You're such a good dog. Thank you, Splash. I read over at the Robert Brent Museum Magnet Elementary School [in Washington, D.C.] once a week, and I noticed there were few books available to read to the children. I saw that the children love books about animals, and we had some funny stories about Splash, so I thought, let's do a book about it. To be honest about it, when I finished it, I thought that was the first chapter, but they said no, that's the whole book. Then I got the illustrator [Caldecott Medal winner David Small] and I read it to my grandchildren.
They thought it was ho-hum. They were interested, but not enormously excited about it. Then one of them said, "Why don't you have the story told by Splash?" Vicki stayed up until 11 o'clock at night and rewrote the whole story, from Splash's point of view. That's why I dedicated the book to her.
Is there anywhere Splash can't go?
The Senate floor. He is a little upset about it. [He opens a copy of the book.] "I know the rules, no dogs allowed on the Senate floor. But I don't like it. I see plenty of senators, and they don't behave any better than I do."
But he's seen some famous people and places.
He's met Elton John. He was in the Oval Office. He has a dog bone from President Bush. He gave me this rawhide dog bone and wrote on it, "From Barney to Splash." I take him to all the hearings; he always sits under the table. He goes to press conferences, to the Cape. He loves to take long trips in the boat. He could sail all day.
Doesn't he get to be something of a distraction?
Not really. [Splash barks and tries to retrieve a tennis ball from under the couch.] But one time [during a committee hearing] we had a roll call, and when we came back, Splash was sitting in the chairman's chair.
How does he behave around other senators?
One time, the caucus went on too long, and Joe Biden and Paul Wellstone were speaking louder and louder. Splash started to bark, so Paul Sarbanes made him an honorary member of our caucus.
What does Splash do when he sees the bomb-sniffing dogs?
He waits until we pass. And then he barks.