By Linda Cole
Running the country is probably the most stressful job anyone can have. Beginning with our first president, George Washington, to President Obama, many different pets have lived in the White House. Most of the men who have held the highest office in the land had a dog by their side. There have even been some famous “first cats” too. As a pet lover and a lover of history, I ran across some interesting facts about a few of our presidents and the dogs that made them smile.
We know what he did for our country, but did you know Washington is considered the father of the American Foxhound? He imported a pack of young Foxhounds from England before the start of the War of Independence. During the war, the Marquis de Lafayette became friends with Washington and presented him with a gift of three French Foxhounds. Washington bred his English Foxhounds with his French Foxhounds to produce the American Foxhound. Washington loved dogs and he often talked about them in his diaries. He fondly mentions one who kept his wife Martha up in arms because the dog had a knack for breaking in and stealing whole Virginia hams from her pantry.
One story that shows Washington’s character as a man and as a dog lover recounts the Battle of Germantown, which wasn’t going in Washington’s favor. The American troops were camped at Pennibecker’s Mill when a little Terrier was spotted roaming the battlefield between the American and British lines. It was discovered the dog belonged to the British commander General Howe and had gotten lost between enemy lines. Ignoring the advice of his officers who wanted to use the dog to demoralize Howe, Washington surprised everyone when he took Howe’s dog to his tent, fed him, made sure he was cleaned up and then ordered a cease fire. After the shooting stopped everyone on both sides watched as an aid to Washington walked across the battlefield under a flag of truce and returned the dog to his grateful owner.
Jefferson was quite fond of Briards. It was Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette (he gave Jefferson two dogs as a gift) who brought the Briard to America. While in the country as the minister to France, Jefferson bought a pregnant female named Buzzy. Back home, he began a breeding program with his Briards and the dogs he had received from Lafayette.
Lincoln had a Lab mix named Fido who he dearly loved. In fact, the dog ate at the table with the other family members! But life in the White House was stressful for Fido, so Lincoln gave him to friends back in Chicago that he trusted would take good care of Fido. The dog was replaced with the very first cat to live in the White House. It’s said that the cat, Tabby, would get belly rubs from Lincoln that lasted for hours.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR’s Scottish Terrier Fala is one of the more famous dogs that lived at the White House. He went everywhere with FDR, home and abroad. While running for reelection in 1944, Republican opponents started false rumors that Fala had been left in the Aleutians and FDR had ordered, at tax payer’s expense totaling in the millions of dollars, a destroyer to go and pick Fala up. Of course, it wasn’t true and Roosevelt was very angry that his enemies attacked his dog. When Roosevelt died in 1945, Fala was only five. He never got over his master’s death and lived the rest of his life with Eleanor Roosevelt. Fala died in 1952 and is buried near FDR in the rose garden at Hyde Park.
Nixon was the first president to resign from office, but he took a stand before entering the White House when a supporter from Texas sent his family a Cocker Spaniel they named Checkers. His famous “Checkers speech” was mainly about allegations he accepted illegal campaign funds, but most people remember what he said about Checkers. He was determined not to disappoint his kids and speaking as a father who was concerned about his family, he said, “And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”
As it turns out, most of our presidents have shared the White House with dogs and cats. When it comes to political figures, we may not always agree with them, but presidents are just like us when it comes to loving their pets. To the dogs that have graced the White House steps, thank you for helping our presidents deal with one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Two paws up for a job well done!
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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