Devoted Dog Owner: William Lyon MacKenzie King

William Lyon MacKenzie King (1874-1950), Canada’s 10th and longest serving Prime Minister was a devoted dog owner in life and in death.

King was a bachelor; a solitary man with few close relatives and only a small circle of friends. Little did he expect that an Irish Terrier, a breed that he affectionately described as “red, racy and rectangular” would come into his life and impact him to his very soul. His first of three Irish Terriers, all of which he named Pat, was born in 1924 and quickly became his constant companion. Missives of Pat’s adventures would appear in the Prime Minister’s dairy on a daily basis for over 17 years. He praised his terrier friend as “a God-sent little angel in the guise of a dog, my dear little saviour”. A man who was distant in his relationships with his fellow humans was quick to recognize the faithfulness of the dog, concluding that dogs are perfect animals in that they “ask only to be near your and to share in a companionship of pure trust.”

King worked long hours and resented social events as a waste of his time, preferring to share his Ovaltine by the fire in the evenings with Pat. King more often than not chose to conduct the nation’s business from home, rather than from his office on Parliament Hill.  Pat’s constant presence at King’s side ensured his participation in the process of steadily governing Canada during some of this country’s most turbulent times. We certainly have Pat to thank for doing his part in leading the country as King would analyze the dog’s tail-wagging to determine if the Pat was for or against in government policy decision-making.

While active in politics King had an achingly dull public image, which was certainly at odds with the goings-on in his private life.  What the Canadian populace wasn’t aware of was his séances, his consultations with spiritual mediums, table-rapping sessions, tea-leaf readings and communing with the spirits of the likes of former PM Wilfrid Laurier, his long-deceased mother, and of course his dear ghost dog, Pat.  That he owned and frequently used both a Ouija board and a crystal ball was published in Time Magazine in 1953, news that shocked the nation.  Rampant rumours circulated about King’s oddities, some true, most false.  That King had Pat stuffed by a taxidermist so that the little dog would always be by his side turned out to be untrue.  King’s detailed diary entries, published after his death in 1950 revealed that King consulted the dead Pats during these séance sessions in manners of international political policy, conscription, and Liberal Party Leadership.

King, obsessed with death and the afterlife, often expressed his wish to communicate with the living after he died, just as he hoped to be reunited forever in the spirit world with his three Pats; “we shall all be together in the Beyond,” he wrote, “of that I am perfectly sure”.