Fido is a generic name many people use when referring to any dog. It’s a Latin word that means “to trust, believe, confide in.” However, there are few references to the name throughout the pages of time, and it’s not a name found on those “most popular dog names” lists – except briefly during one period in history. So if Fido has never been popular, how did it become a common name used to mean any dog? To answer that question, we have to go back to the election of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
Suffering from bouts of depression that made it difficult for him to work, Lincoln found comfort with his pets and they became a lifeline that pulled him out of his darkness. He was passionate about animals throughout his life, with a special fondness for cats, and was an outspoken advocate for animal rights as well as human rights. Lincoln served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849, returning to his law practice after leaving office. He stepped back onto the political stage at the 1860 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination to run for president.
Fido’s story, however, begins in Springfield, Illinois in 1855. Lincoln rescued a medium-sized, yellow retriever/shepherd pup he named Fido. The pair became inseparable and were commonly seen strolling around town together. Fido had the run of the house, much to the disapproval of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, who wasn’t fond of animals. She bristled when Fido tracked mud through the house, and wasn’t amused when he claimed a horsehair sofa as his. But she tolerated him, and for five years Fido lived a carefree life – until 1860 when Lincoln won the presidential election.
Beginning with George Washington up to our current president, dogs have lived in the White House with their elected leaders. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his share of presidential pets, but his favorite canine and constant companion was Fala, a Scottish Terrier who in many ways helped to shape our country.
Fala was born April 7, 1940, and was destined to become one of the most beloved presidential pets of all time. The dog, whose name was Big Boy at the time, was given to Roosevelt by Mrs. Augustus Kellog, but it was Roosevelt’s cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley who socialized and trained the puppy before presenting him to the president as an early Christmas gift. By the time Fala entered the White House in November, he knew how to behave, roll over, sit up and jump.
Roosevelt wasn’t keen on the name Big Boy and promptly changed it to Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after a Scottish ancestor from the 1400s who was apparently of questionable character. The name was soon shortened to Fala. Roosevelt was a huge dog lover, but was persuaded to leave his bigger dogs at home in Hyde Park, New York. Without a canine companion in the White House, people around Roosevelt thought he seemed distant at times and hoped the pup would provide comfort and cheer him up. Fala and Roosevelt quickly bonded and the two became inseparable, much to Eleanor’s dismay; she constantly had to contend with Roosevelt crossing her name off a list of people accompanying him on trips and replacing it with Fala’s.
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.
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