He may have written the Declaration of Independence, secured the Louisiana Purchase, and launched the Louis and Clark Expedition, but our nation’s third president was not known for his love of dogs.
In fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following in a letter to a friend:
I participate in all your hostility to dogs and would readily join in any plan of exterminating the whole race. I consider them the most afflicting of all follies for which men tax themselves.”
According to some sources, Jefferson got this distaste of dogs because he raised sheep and had some bad experiences with dogs attacking and killing his livestock.
The Father of…Dog Licenses?
Jefferson is credited with introducing the idea of dog licensing. He thought all dogs should wear collars with their owners’ names on them, so all would know whom to blame if a dog misbehaved.
Jefferson changed his mind about dogs — or at least some of them — when in 1789 France’s Marquis de Lafayette introduced him to the shaggy herding dog now known as the Briard. Jefferson called these dogs “the finest house and farm dogs I have ever seen.”
The Briard has been known since the eighth century in France as both a companion and working dog. The breed was first used to defend livestock against wolves and poachers and then became popular as a herder and a guard dog.
Jefferson Bred Briards
After serving as ambassador to France for four years, Jefferson set sail for his home Virginia with Buzzy, a pregnant female Briard who delivered two puppies onboard the ship. Jefferson recorded in his Memorandum Book the payment of 36 livres (about six dollars) for “a chienne bergere big with pup.”
Lafayette later sent Jefferson two more Briards, and Jefferson bred the dogs at his Monticello estate.
The dogs guarded his flock of Merino sheep and also served as household companion dogs. Jefferson gave mating pairs of the dogs to several friends with the warning that they should keep them well fed so they would not destroy any livestock.
The dogs remained at Monticello, and no record exists of them living at the White House. Jefferson’s pets during his presidency include a mockingbird named Dick — who was allowed to fly around the president’s office.