About 10 executives from a major Midwestern power company sat around a dining table at the S.C. Governor’s Mansion in September, talking with Gov. Henry McMaster about the possible sale of the state-owned Santee Cooper utility.
But in the middle of the talks about the multibillion-dollar utility, two English bulldogs — McMaster’s Little Mac and his foster dog, Winston — started to growl at each other under the table.
Without saying a word, the 71-year-old Richland Republican left his chair and dove under the table. “He goes under the table and comes up, not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle in his suit, with a bulldog under each arm,” said Mike Couick, president of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.
McMaster took the dogs away. When he returned, it was as if nothing had happened. “He was nonplussed, so everybody went back to talking,” Couick recalled.
In November, S.C. voters will vote on whether they want McMaster or Democrat James Smith in the Governor’s Mansion over the next four years.
Substantive issues divide two Columbians.
Their love of dogs — whether McMaster’s Mac or Smith’s Cayman and Laffey — does not.
But what does it say about McMaster that he has had a lifelong love of English bulldogs? Or that Smith has a goldendoodle — a mix of poodle and golden retriever — and ... well ... a mutt?
It may say a lot.
Like bulldogs, originally bred to cling to their goal at all costs, McMaster single-mindedly has pursued the Governor’s Mansion for 30 years.
Well, goldendoodles are ferociously friendly, “happy-go-lucky” and have become very popular, said Amy Lane, founder of Goldendoodle Association of North America.
Meet Smith’s pups: Cayman and Laffey
Smith’s daughter, Shannon, periodically has to remind her mother, Kirkland, that Cayman, a white miniature goldendoodle, is “technically” her dog, Kirkland Smith jokes.
A year ago, the Smith family had practiced scuba diving in a nearby pool enough times that they were ready for the real deal in the Cayman Islands.
Shannon, not so much.
“I wanted her to ... do something she had not done before,” Kirkland Smith said. “She (Shannon) said, ‘I’m OK. I’m doing this for the puppy. I’m doing this for the puppy.’ “
The 30-pound, curly-haired pup since has been adopted by the entire Smith family and is a regular sight around the Rosewood neighborhood where they live.
Goldendoodles are in demand in the U.S. these days.
“(Former Vice President) Joe Biden’s son has gotten two from me,” said Lane of the Goldendoodle Association. “All you have to do now is open up a catalog and I bet you see a goldendoodle.”
As for their other dog, Laffey, the Smith family is not sure what his DNA is made up of, aside from being part Carolina Dog and another part wild.
He is named for the USS Laffey, a World War II destroyer on which Smith’s grandfather served. While a student at The Citadel, Thomas Smith, the Smiths’ 22-year-old son, would drive by the ship, now part of the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum, almost every weekend, sparking Laffey’s name.
Laffey has become a well-traveled member of the Smith family, rivaling Thomas Smith’s father, who for the past several months has been hopping from county to county on the campaign trail.
“Anyone who loves a dog, cat or pet, they are a part of the family,” Smith said. “There’s no question they add a lot of love and levity.”
“With dogs and children ... a lot of times you just can’t buy that type of entertainment,” said Kirkland Smith.
Still, Cayman and Laffey have yet to befriend Teddy Ham Lincoln — “Linky” for short — who belongs to the family of Lancaster state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, Smith’s lieutenant governor running mate.
“He’s super sweet. But he’s got his cat friends,” Powers Norrell said. “He’s a cat dog, not so much a dog dog.”
‘The prettiest little dog’
As a child, McMaster grew up with five bulldogs. He said his first memory in life is crawling to the porch and riding atop the family’s bulldog, playfully biting it on the back of the neck and getting a mouthful of hair.
The governor and his wife, Peggy, are on their fifth bulldog. The canines typically live eight to 10 years.
When bulldog No. 4, Boots, died after a battle with lymphatic cancer, McMaster said he knew he could not replace him with just another dog.
Boots had risen to celebrity status, appearing with McMaster in campaign ads. He was the star of McMaster’s successful 2014 campaign for lieutenant governor, his tongue flapping idly in ads as McMaster described himself as “South Carolina’s watchdog.”
Then came Little Mac, or “Lil’ Mac” for short, whose debut on Twitter went viral with thousands of views.
Little Mac — the “prettiest little dog in the whole wide world,” says McMaster — is named after the governor’s father-in-law.
“He’s like a member of the family, and he’s part of the personality of the place,” McMaster said. “He’s strong, yet gentle. Determined. ... Just a big ball of love and happiness.”
Governor’s Mansion coordinator Karen Campbell said McMaster “is like a 14-year-old boy with that dog.”
“Henry’s two (favorite) things, besides his family, is the dog and his guitar,” Campbell said. “His dog and his guitar helps him back out of the day.”
McMaster said the 52-pound pooch will be featured in his next campaign ad.
“His role will be to win the race, of course,” McMaster joked.
Loyal and tenacious with a gentle disposition are how political observers describe McMaster and Mac. “They’re both funny ... and they’re both stubborn,” said McMaster’s running mate Pamela Evette, who shares McMaster’s fondness for dogs.
For her part, Evette has a 1-year-old goldendoodle, Flynn. Her husband owns an Irish setter and her daughter, Amanda, has a long-haired dachshund.
Flynn and Little Mac have yet to meet. But Evette said her 11-year-old son, Jackson, has been pushing hard for a play date.
The English bulldog’s history is a checkered one, said Shelly Pyle of the Columbia Kennel Club.
The bulldog — the fourth most popular breed in the United States — originally was used in “bullbaiting,” either for sport or to subdue an animal for slaughter. Its undershot jaw enabled it to grab a bull and clamp down, and hang on until the end, according to the Kennel Club.
By 1835, England had stopped bullbaiting and domesticated the breed, which became “the gentleman’s dog,” said Patricia Ropp, vice president of the Bulldog Club of America.
“They have this pacific and dignified demeanor, and regal appearance because they’ll arch their neck and hold their head up high,” Ropp said.
Today’s bulldogs, she said, are sweet-natured and affectionate.
“The first time I met Little Mac ... I was wearing a new pair of shoes, and he kept pulling on my heel, as if to say, ‘Hey, (look) down here. I’m way more fun to pet than to talk to that guy (the governor),’ ” Evette said.