Argentina’s New President Loves His Dogs. People, Not So Much.

Argentine President Javier Milei with his cloned dogs in 2018.
Argentine President Javier Milei with his cloned dogs in 2018.

Summary

Javier Milei’s peculiar infatuation with his five cloned English mastiffs has provided fodder for the opposition as he tackles the world’s highest inflation.

BUENOS AIRES—A few years ago, Argentina’s up-and-coming political rabble-rouser, Javier Milei, didn’t hesitate when asked on television whether he liked people or dogs more.

“Dogs," Milei said.

Now president, the self-described anarcho-capitalist waited a month to move into the Olivos presidential residence as he built kennels for his “four-legged children," as he calls his five cloned English mastiffs—four named after free-market economists. For his December inauguration, he broke with tradition by having images of the 200-pound dogs carved into his silver-and-gold presidential baton.

While other politicians hold babies and press the flesh with human voters, Milei makes a beeline for dogs, even stopping his inauguration-day parade to pat a tail-wagging golden retriever. And when a bus driver recently ran over a dog in the working class outskirts of Buenos Aires, Milei ordered his justice minister to find the man.

“An excellent job," he said on X after the driver was detained the next day.

Global leaders often show affection for man’s best friend, from French President Emmanuel Macron, who adopted a labrador-griffon cross called Nemo, to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, to whom Japan once gave an Akita puppy.

Some presidential pups cause trouble. Theodore Roosevelt’s dog, Pete, killed four squirrels and chased down a French ambassador. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent his dog for training after it urinated on a rug worth $20,000. President Biden’s nippy German shepherd, Commander, got banished from the White House.

But Milei’s canine infatuation has raised eyebrows as people try to figure out what makes the fiery political outsider tick—as he attempts to tackle the world’s highest inflation.

“It’s weird," said David González, a 29-year-old in Buenos Aires. “I treat my dogs well, but they sleep outside. They aren’t people."

Jimena Villalobos, 30, said Milei’s love for dogs makes him more relatable to regular Argentines. “I’m like him, my dogs come first."

Most presidents are happy to be photographed with their dogs—playing fetch or taking walks—to show they’re not so different from voters. Not Milei.

Few people have glimpsed his dogs since 2018, when he appeared on a television program with his clones when they were still pups.

“I have photos of them," Milei recently told The Wall Street Journal. “But I don’t usually share them."

During the interview last month, Milei said he doesn’t see a contradiction of having a lion as his political symbol when he’s clearly a dog person. In cinema’s early days, he said, movie crews put wigs on English mastiffs to make them resemble lions instead of using wild felines.

“I have English mastiffs and clearly if I put a wig on each of them I would have five lions," said Milei, also known to Argentines as “The Wig" because of his exuberant hair. “Five lions of pure love."

Milei’s dogs are a prickly topic. He appeared irritated when asked by the Journal how he plans to tend to five dogs that weigh as much as miniature horses while trying to fix Argentina’s worst economic crisis in a generation.

“What’s that got to do with anything?" he replied. “What’s the problem with me taking care of my dogs?"

Milei’s first dog was an English mastiff named for the movie, “Conan the Barbarian." “The love of my life," he once said.

Milei, a 53-year-old who has never married or had children of his own, used to spend Christmas and New Year’s alone with Conan, both sipping Champagne, according to a popular biography on the Argentine leader called “El Loco."

In the 2018 television interview, Milei said Conan was the only one not to betray him during a difficult spell, along with his younger sister Karina Milei, now secretary-general of the president’s office.

After being fired from a job, Milei, an economist, said he went months eating only pizza so he could pay for Conan’s food.

“It’s difficult to understand," said Juan Luis González, the author of the biography, “but it’s a father-and-son type of relationship."

The dog’s 2017 death traumatized Milei, said González. He decided to clone Conan at a U.S. laboratory. The procedure costs about $50,000.

Milei later claimed to spiritually communicate with the animal, telling friends they first met in another life 2,000 years ago in a Roman coliseum when he was a gladiator and the dog was a lion, according to “El Loco." Instead of fighting, the pair teamed up with the mission of one day ruling Argentina.

Four of his current, cloned dogs are named after economists—Milton for Milton Friedman, Robert and Lucas for Robert Lucas and Murray for Murray Rothbard. The fifth is named Conan.

Fitting all five into his small, Buenos Aires apartment wasn’t easy. To make room, Milei knocked down his kitchen wall. The pups tore up his furniture. One bit his arm while he was trying to break up a fight with another clone.

“Those monsters," Milei said with affection in the TV interview.

Last year, Milei publicly thanked the dogs for his political rise.

“Even though the filthy journalists don’t like it, I want to say thanks to my four-legged children," he said after winning a primary vote in August.

The dogs are now political fodder. In Congress, lawmakers point to the peculiar relationship to explain why Milei shouldn’t be trusted with special powers to enact legislation.

“Stop squeezing us, Conan," read a sign at a recent protest against Milei’s tough austerity package. That poked fun at the widely reported claim Milei has sought political counsel from his dogs, an assertion Milei hasn’t publicly denied.

A Clarin newspaper columnist teased that Argentines should try to communicate with Milei’s dead dog, the first Conan, considered a top adviser.

“If we really want to help him so that his government successfully defeats inflation and lowers poverty, we have no choice but to try to speak with his dog," wrote humorist Alejandro Borensztein. “Obviously, speaking with Conan won’t be easy."

Silvina Frydlewsky contributed to this article.

Write to Ryan Dubé at ryan.dube@wsj.com

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