December 2, 1998

Who says the art of letter writing is dead? Our pets, Socks and Buddy, have received more than 300,000 letters and e-mails since moving to the White House -- almost all of them from children. (By comparison, Thomas Jefferson received an average of 137 letters a month while he was President.)

Socks and Buddy receive so much mail that they could never manage to answer it all themselves. They're lucky that some of the retired servicemen and women who live at the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home here in Washington have volunteered to help them.

Among the most common questions posed to Socks are: Do you like living in the White House? And do you like having Buddy around?

Our cat is very happy living in the White House and has made lots of new friends. Socks loves to spend sunny days in the yard behind the Oval Office. Inside, the resourceful feline has appropriated some especially cozy napping spots, including a blue and gold chair in the West Wing and the high back of a Queen Anne chair in the Visitors' Office, where he can also keep one eye on what's happening outside.

Once, when Socks jumped up on the desk belonging to the President's secretary (she's one of his greatest fans), he encountered a ceramic look-alike. The real Socks arched his back, his hair stood on end, and he batted the intruder with his paws. Only after he figured out that this was not a usurper did he try to mend fences.

Socks and Buddy, on the other hand, had a tougher time figuring each other out. When the two met for the first time, both were caught off guard. Socks was hanging out in his usual spot behind the Oval Office when Buddy arrived with Bill. Intent on protecting his turf, the cat hissed, and the dog strained at his leash. This went on until the President intervened.

The tension continued through several peacekeeping meetings until the day that Socks swatted Buddy on the nose and sent the puppy off yelping. Now, Buddy seems to understand that Socks is a pretty tough character, even though he weighs only 9 pounds.

Buddy's pen pals ask if he can do any tricks and who his best friend is. Buddy can sit, shake, lie down and come when you call him. After a few short months, he was even able to train Bill to throw a ball and stay off his favorite chair. Although our dog has lots of friends, there is no doubt that the President is his No. 1 buddy.

The chocolate Labrador has made himself right at home in the White House. One hot summer day, he discovered that the fountain installed by President Ulysses Grant makes a perfect swimming hole. On another occasion, he padded into the Oval Office while the President was conducting a foreign policy meeting. The eager pup jumped into an empty chair next to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, ready and willing to contribute.

Buddy's antics have prompted some young correspondents to wonder, "Have you ever broken a window?" and "Do you get in trouble sometimes?" -- questions that may reflect what's going on in their own lives. It's also not unusual for the children to express some of their feelings. One child wrote sympathetically to Buddy: "I got used to my brother, so I'm sure you will get used to Socks."

In one of my favorite letters, Greg Kohl tells Socks about his sadness over the loss of his cat. Here's a portion of the letter:

"Dear Socks,
"Hi! My name is Greg Kohl. I am 10 years old, and I go to Barry School. I'm in the fourth grade. My teacher is the ever-popular, beautiful Mrs. House. Her class is fun to be in. I have blond hair and blue eyes.

"Do those Secret Service cats bug you? Have you ever been on Air Force One? I had a cat, but it died. It was sad. Can you get me a job in the FBI? How do you feel about Buddy?"

Sorry, Greg, I'm afraid Socks can't help you get a job in the FBI because he and Buddy are just so busy with their official duties. But you and all the children who've written should know you definitely have two friends in the White House.