Last week over 160 million Americans voted in the US presidential election. And, although we’re still not 110% what will happen in the coming weeks, all signs are pointing towards a Biden/Harris White House.
Now, don’t worry, we’re not about to get all political on the Dogs Trust education blog. The reason we’re bringing it up, is that when the Bidens take residence in the Oval Office, they’ll be bringing along their German Shepherds, Champ and Major. And thrillingly for those of us who work in dog rescue, Major will be the first rescue dog to take this prestigious White Kennel.
Future First Lady Jill Biden and her dogs Champ and Major
Major was adopted by the Bidens in 2018 from the Delaware Humane Organisation, and the organisation has been very supportive of his promotion to “First Dog Elect”, stating that a rescue dog in the White House “shows the real possibilities for what could happen for all the great dogs who need homes out there”.
When we read about Major, it got us thinking about other White House dogs, or indeed pets, and it turns out the Oval Office has been home to hundreds of pets over the years. In fact, Donald Trump is the first president not to have had any animal companions throughout his presidency.
We’ll talk about the White House dogs shortly, but we felt it might be interesting to briefly mention the other presidential pets first. Indeed, the White House has practically been a menagerie at times, with some presidents having animals as peculiar as tiger cubs, alligators and badgers.
Often these animals were presented to the president as gifts from foreign dignitaries. Our very own Eamon De Valera gave John F. Kennedy a Connemara pony, and while you might think that a pony is a slightly awkward gift, it was appreciated significantly more than the two grizzly bear cubs that were given to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson kept them for a brief amount of time, before saying (wisely) that they were “too dangerous & troublesome for me to keep” and promptly gave them to a museum.
Former First Lady Grace Coolidge and her pet Racoon, Rebecca in 1926
And while the bears were intended as pets, and ended up as something else, the opposite has happened at times too. Rebecca the Racoon’s destiny was to be eaten (yes, eaten!) at Calvin Coolidge’s Thanksgiving feast. First Lady Grace Coolidge decided to keep her as a pet however, and she was raised alongside the president's other pets. She even had her very own treehouse built on the White House grounds.
But back to dogs. Although many American presidents have had colourful companions, 30 of the 45 elected presidents have had official White House dogs. A dog is a lovely way of garnering support for the president as it creates a wholesome appearance. Look at our very own President Higgins. His dogs have always been part of his image, and all of Ireland mourned when Síoda died earlier this year.
When the Obamas took office, they stated that they were actively looking for a rescue dog, but instead were gifted with Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog. There were some rumblings that Bo came from a breeder, though he was actually adopted by an unsuitable family before he ended up with the Obamas. Despite this, the President gave a sizeable donation to the DC Humane Society in a show of support for shelter dogs.
The Original Fido
But isn’t it peculiar how much attention the President’s dog gets? This likely started with Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido. This fellow is the reason the name “Fido” is now considered a generic dog name. Fido wasn’t the president's only dog, but was one of his favourites, and actually outlived his master. However, tragically, he encountered a similar fate to Lincoln, and was stabbed by a drunken man and killed.
Laddie Boy, the first Influencer
And while Fido became famous for quite unfortunate circumstances, Laddie Boy, Warren G Harding’s Airedale Terrier, was a much more modern celebrity. Were he around today, he may have been an Instagram influencer. He had his own hand carved chair to sit on during cabinet meetings, and had birthday parties with other local dogs. Apparently they were all served dog biscuit cake.
Laddie boy wasn’t just a mascot however, He was a tool the President and First Lady used to highlight animal rights issues, and became an advocate for abused and neglected animals.
Hopefully when Major moves into the White House, he will ignite a rise in adopting rescue dogs.
We at Dogs Trust wish him well. Dog save America!