Whatever your feelings are for Trump or Biden, January 20 is a special day for companion animals in America. The White House will again contain presidential pets! The Bidens will be moving in with Champ and Major, two German Shepherds. Not only that, but Major is the first White House dog to have been adopted from an animal shelter – how’s that for instilling hope to all animals currently in shelters!
Trump didn’t have any pets during his tenure in the White House. The only other president on record with no animals is James Polk who served from 1845-1849. Martin Van Buren is only credited with briefly having two tiger cubs which were gifted to him by the Sultan of Muscat and were soon donated to a zoo, so perhaps he should also count as not really having a pet. In fact, there has been a first dog in the White House continuously from 1901 until 2016. The breeds are varied and have included Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Pekingese, Bulldogs, English Setters, Cocker Spaniels, Weimaraners, Dobermans, Beagles, Poodles, Springer Spaniels and various terriers to name a few.
Pets have helped with campaigns and some have become famous in their own rights. Franklin D. Roosevelt is quoted as saying “you can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog” in a speech that reportedly helped secure his reelection. Always quick to look out for the welfare of dogs, animal lovers protested loudly when President Lyndon Johnson was photographed holding his beagles, named Him and Her, up by their ears. We expect people in the spotlight to promote care and kindness and be a role model for our nation!
Hillary Clinton helped secure fame for their two pets, a cat named Socks and a Chocolate Lab named Buddy, by featuring them in a children’s book, called “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ letters to the first pets.” When George H.W. Bush’s English Springer Spaniel, Millie, was bred during his term it sparked quite the furor throughout the animal welfare world. Afraid it would undermine our message of the importance of spaying and neutering, many in the animal welfare movement were disappointed that the president chose to breed his dog. It’s amazing how powerful the influence of the White House can have on the popularity of a particular breed and in the way animals are cared for.
President Obama kept his promise to his daughters to get them a dog after the election. Of course, those in the animal welfare world hoped he would adopt from a shelter, but because of Malia’s allergies and the need for a hypoallergenic dog, they accepted Bo, a purebred Portuguese Water Dog puppy from Senator Ted Kennedy. Bo became quite a celebrity and was featured in a book, too, titled “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters” by President Obama. Four years later, they added a second Portuguese Water Dog named Sunny to the family.
We are so happy to see animals return to the White House. It makes the first family look more real in some way. And the fact that Major was adopted from a shelter is hopefully going to be good PR for shelters nationwide. I’m sure we will be promoting that fact (as I am currently!) to push adoptions. Just one more way that 2021 is looking up!
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.