President Abraham Lincoln, the United States’ 16th President, remains one of the most well-known Presidents in history. Lincoln was a leader not just concerned with the state of the Union and the plight of the slaves, but he was also passionate about animal welfare and had several pets throughout his lifetime. One of those pets was a dog named Fido.
Fido was a yellowish, mixed-breed dog with floppy ears and a stubby tail. Lincoln and his sons enjoyed playing with Fido, and could sometimes be found all together rolling about on the rug. Fido often accompanied Lincoln on his walks about town. The pair would stop and chat with neighbors and friends. While Lincoln was in the barber shop, Fido would sit outside with other pets and discuss dog matters, and when there was a parcel to carry, Fido would sometimes do so in his mouth for his master. But things changed suddenly and drastically for Fido when Lincoln won the Presidency.
Fido may have been a pet of the President, but he wasn’t actually a “Presidential Pet.” That is, he never actually lived in the White House although Abraham Lincoln was President while he had Fido. When Lincoln won the Presidency, his victory was announced with fireworks and cannons and all manner of loud, celebratory sounds. Throngs of people stopped Lincoln in the street to congratulate him, interfering with the pair’s daily constitutionals. People often stopped by and stayed at the Lincoln home for hours at a time, sometimes late into the night, talking to the President-elect.
These sounds and new routines frightened Fido so much that Lincoln and his wife Mary decided that life in Washington would be too difficult for him. The Lincolns felt that the constant activity, travel, and continual noise would overwhelm Fido, and so the decision was made to allow another family to adopt him (despite pleas from their sons.)
Abraham and Mary Lincoln struggled to find just the right family for their beloved Fido. Lincoln was familiar with scores of neighborhood children and their families, all of whom seemed as though they might do. At last the Lincolns settled on the Roll family, headed by Abraham’s oldest friend in Springfield, John Eddy Roll. John’s sons, John Jr. and his brother Frank were about the same ages as the Lincoln boys and Fido had always gotten along well with both boys.
With the matter settled, Fido remained with the Lincoln family until it was time to auction off the furniture and move. But Abraham made certain that a special sofa – one he had built himself to accommodate his great height – went with Fido to the Roll home. This sofa was one that Fido often took refuge under when he was frightened and so the Lincolns wanted him to have that familiar landmark and safe space in his new home.
The Lincolns left instructions for Roll regarding their beloved pet: Fido was never to be tied up outdoors alone, never to be scolded for coming into the house with muddy paws, allowed to come indoors whenever he scratched at the door, and allowed to wander freely about the table as the family dined. The Roll family faithfully followed these instructions and Fido remained with them for a good many years.
Sadly, shortly after Lincoln himself was assassinated, Fido met almost the same tragic end. In 1954, Johnny Roll himself told Time Magazine: “We possessed the dog for a number of years until one day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing [who] in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido…So Fido, just a poor yellow dog, met the same fate as his illustrious master – assassination.”
For a long time after – and even to this day – the name “Fido” became very popular for dogs, based on Lincoln’s beloved pet. In this way, it is almost as though Fido himself remains just as memorable in the dog world as Lincoln has to the general populace.