Major Biden, a german shepherd like his big brother, Champ, was born in January 2018. Although the Bidens have never publicly explained the source of Major’s name, many assume the dog was named for President Biden’s deceased son, Beau, who earned the rank of major in the Delaware National Guard. Major and his five littermates were surrendered to the Delaware Humane Association after they came into contact with a toxic substance and their owners could not afford veterinary care.
To make sure that Major was a good match for the Biden family, they first fostered him for several months. When it was clear that Major was meant to be a part of their lives, the Bidens proceeded with the adoption and gave him a forever home.
The First Presidential Shelter Dog
Although Major is not the first rescue pet to grace the White House, he does own the distinction of being the first presidential shelter pet. Many hope that bringing Major to the White House will shine a light on the plight of the thousands of dogs waiting in shelters around the country for someone to bring them home.
Major, along with big brother Champ, has been a hit on social media, earning followers, fans, and likes on Instagram and Twitter. Although none of the accounts is officially endorsed by the Biden family, several unofficial accounts have sprung up, with photos and videos featuring these two very good boys.
The Indoguration, A New Tradition?
On January 17, 2021, the Delaware Humane Association hosted the Indoguration, a virtual event to celebrate and highlight the first ever shelter dog to become a White House pet. The celebration was a huge success, with over 7400 people attending via Zoom. The event raised over $200,00 to support the Association’s mission.
Champ in 2021.
In 2008, a frisky, three month-old german shepherd joined the Biden household and changed their lives forever. Biden granddaughters Finnegan and Maisy chose the name Champ in honor of one of their “Pop’s” favorite sayings, one he often heard from his own father: “Any time you get knocked down, champ, get back up!”
Why a german shepherd? Chalk it up to Biden’s deep love for the breed. “I’ve had german shepherds since I was a kid,” he explained. “And I’ve actually trained them and shown them in the past.” The Bidens purchased Champ from a breeder in Pennsylvania.
No Stranger to the Limelight
When it comes to life in the public eye, Champ is an old pro. As vice presidential pet, he lived eight years at Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the vice president, on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. According to the vice president, Champ always took his duties seriously. “He thinks he’s Secret Service,” Biden said, “because he is.”
To prepare for his role as vice presidential pet, the Bidens enrolled Champ (and later, his younger brother Major) at Delaware’s K-9 Camp Dog Obedience School. They knew Champ would need to be on his best behavior, even when confronted with unfamiliar visitors.
Don’t get the idea that Champ is all business, though. He has a “soft” side, too. As vice president, Biden often gave small plush toy versions of Champ to children, especially victims of floods and other natural disasters. Champ’s dad recognized that animals, especially dogs, have a unique way of offering comfort in times of crisis. We hope President Biden continues this wonderful tradition in his new role.
President’s Day was originally established to recognize “The Father of Our Country,” President George Washington’s Birthday. It began unofficially in 1800, the year after Washington’s death, and then officially as a federal holiday in 1879. President’s Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February. It is still called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government, though other presidents, like Abraham Lincoln, William Hen Harrison, and Ronald Reagan also share February birthdays.
By and large, many people honor whichever president they so choose on this day—perhaps by purchasing a car or a new mattress at a deep discount.
In addition to our many fine Presidents, we here at The Presidential Pet Museum choose to honor the First Pets of the United States of America, too! From Washington’s parrot named Polly, his 36 hounds, and horses to Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbird and two bear cubs, and beyond, we thank the critters who no doubt brought much joy to the White House.
We hope you and your pets have a wonderful day, too!
The latest great debate centers around whether or not President-Elect Donald Trump will be adding a furry, four-footed family member upon his arrival to the White House. For awhile it seemed that he might in the form of a Goldendoodle named Patton, but unfortunately the woman who owned Patton fell in love with him and refused to give him up.
Leaving the Trump family, once again, pet-less.
Throughout America’s history, one common thread among almost all its Presidents has been the residence of a dog during the President’s term. Most Presidents had several dogs, but almost all had at least 1. And the Presidents that did not have dogs in residence? Well, their terms didn’t always go smoothly. So the real question becomes: Is it lucky to have a dog in the White House?
The principle author of the Declaration of Independence served two terms in office. Jefferson owned two bear cubs and a mockingbird named Dick. Although nothing openly untoward happened, he remarked upon his exit that he “felt like a prisoner, released from his chains.” Well, to be fair, the country was still very young. There had to have been a lot to do.
Madison owned a parrot, but no canines.
Madison left office hale and hearty – but during his term he had 2 Vice-Presidents die on him, George Clinton and Elbridge Gerry. Madison remains the only President with the dubious honor of having 2 Vice Presidents die in office.
Adams had silkworms and an alligator – but no dogs.
While he was regarded as a great diplomat, advocating for the rights of Native Americans and abhorrent of slavery, he and his father remain the only two Presidents during America’s first 48 years to serve only a single term. Adams was soundly defeated in 1928 by Andrew Jackson…who had problems of his own.
Jackson owned a parrot and many horses and ponies, but no dogs.
During the campaign for the Presidency, Jackson’s wife Rachael was accused of bigamy and died suddenly on December 22nd, 1828. But rumors didn’t stop there. Shortly after taking office, another round of rumors began to circulate about the wife of Secretary of War John H. Eaton’s wife having formerly been a prostitute. Known as the Petticoat Affair, these rumors caused other wives of White House staff to refuse to socialize with Mrs. Eaton. Eventually, all of this blew up and the entire cabinet save one lonely Postmaster General either resigned or was fired. While there was a great deal more that happened during Jackson’s presidency, he was also the first President to send us into a Depression (thanks a lot) and the first President to have someone attempt to assassinate him.
Probably should have just got a dog.
Martin Van Buren briefly owned 2 tiger cubs that had been gifted to him, but that Congress made him hand over to a zoo. Otherwise, he is not noted for having any pets.
Although Van Buren certainly inherited a mess started by predecessor Jackson, he was plagued with problems of his own – notably his wishy-washy stance on slavery. According to Alan J. Singer in New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth, Van Buren considered slavery to be immoral, yet “attacking the slave system violated the constitutional principle of states’ rights.” Van Buren was blamed for the poor economy, and was known by the Whigs as “Martin van Ruin.”
He lost his reelection bid by an embarrassing margin to William Henry Harrison.
Harrison did not have many pets but he did have a goat and a cow named Sukey. Apparently this was not enough to stave off bad luck because Harrison has the distinction of serving the shortest Presidential term in history.
Harrison’s inauguration took place on March 4th, 1841. By April 5th, he had died of what is now known to have been enteric fever. He served 30 days in office.
James K. Polk reportedly loved horses, but had no single animal that could be defined as a pet. However, he bucks the odds here as he served his term with no scandals or assassination attempts – although he did preside over the Mexican-American war and the annexation of Texas, and was not favored by those who opposed slavery, being a slave owner himself.
Ironically, Polk is often referred to as “the first Dark Horse” candidate.
Zachary Taylor owned a horse named Old Whitey and a former circus pony named Apollo, but no dogs.
Before even taking office, Taylor was plagued with problems. On his trip to Washington, he experienced illness, delays, and poor weather conditions. During his short term in office, Taylor contended with the increasingly volatile issue of slavery, where the Southern states fought bitterly to retain slaves while the Northern states worked just as hard to eradicate it. No compromise was reached during Taylor’s time in office, although he was the last President to own slaves.
July 9th, 1950 President Zachary Taylor succumbed to a digestive illness thought to be brought on by eating raw fruit and drinking milk at a July 4th celebration.
Johnson became President due to the tragic assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was not known to have any pets.
This was a tumultuous time in America’s history, as slavery had become an explosive issue. Despite Lincoln’s efforts, things had not much improved for slaves in the South and Johnson reconstructed the former Confederate states. Needless to say, this did not go over well with Congress Republicans and so began the fighting and backbiting in the halls of Congress.
In March of 1867, Radical Republicans passed laws that placed restrictions on the office of the President. Johnson allegedly went on to violate one of these laws – The Office of Tenure Act – and he evaded impeachment by one vote.
Arthur was known to keep horses, but no pets in the White House.
Like Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur took over the Presidency when his President, James Garfield, was assassinated. Arthur continued to grapple with the issue of slavery, still a problem in Southern states. Arthur also faced immigration woes with the unrestricted influx of the Chinese and a scandal revolving around overpaid contractors for the star postal routes. However, his biggest challenge proved to be his health. Shortly after he took office he was diagnosed with nephritis.
Roughly a year after leaving office, Arthur suffered a stroke and died at the age of 57.
McKinley owned roosters, a parrot named Washington Post, and several unidentified kittens – but no dogs.
During his terms in office, McKinley dealt with a crisis in Cuba, a war with Spain, the annexation of Hawaii, and approved both the Dingley Act and the Gold Standard Act. Like so many Presidents before him, McKinley also struggled with the treatment of blacks, particularly in the Southern states. However, when McKinley toured the South he did not mention anything about the climate of violence and racism, which greatly disappointed the black community.
Although McKinley did win his bid for a second term, he did not serve for long. On September 6th, 1901, he was shot by an assassin while meeting with the public. And while at first he seemed to be improving, nobody realized that his wound had turned gangrenous. McKinley died on September 14th, 1901.
There you have it – a list of our Presidents who did not keep a canine in the White House during their term of office. So, are dogs lucky? I happen to think so, but I’m a bit biased. And to be fair, President John F. Kennedy was known to keep many dogs, yet remains the youngest President to ever be assassinated.
Donald Trump certainly faces an uphill battle when it comes to winning over many Americans. Perhaps he had better get a dog…just in case.
Many Americans aren’t happy about the Obamas leaving the White House – and Sunny Obama seems to agree. The normally good-natured, affectionate pooch bit a recent visitor in the face.
While visiting the Obamas, 18-year-old female bent down to kiss and pat the Portuguese Water Dog. Sunny apparently decided to end her term in the White House on notable (or should we say “notorious?”) terms, and reacted by biting the woman in the face. TMZ reports that the Obamas’ physician Dr. Ronny Jackson attended the woman and informed her that the small gash would need stitches and likely leave a scar.
The woman, upset about having a permanent reminder of the bite, took to social media to complain, posting pictures of her cheek with blood dripping from the gash, although she reportedly will not seek legal action.
With this incident, Sunny Obama joins the ranks of White House dogs like Barney Bush, who have not always reacted well to visitors. Sunny’s brother Bo has never bitten a visitor (or reporter) but Bo received intensive training while growing up. By the time Sunny came along, the woman who had trained Bo, Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, had passed away. So while it is likely that Sunny has received some training, she’s a bit backwards compared to her sibling. In 2013, Sunny’s exuberance caused her to knock over a toddler visiting the White House, and she’s also been known to have “accidents” on the floors.
In a press conference on Friday, White House press secretary John Earnest was asked about the incident. He did not confirm, deny or release any new information, saying only that “I think both Bo and Sunny have been genuine ambassadors to the American people.” Earnest goes on to state that he has not heard of any other incident like this involving Bo and Sunny and that thousands of people have interacted with the dogs.
We’re certainly hoping that unnamed woman recovers well – but this serves as an excellent reminder for us all. Any dog, regardless of breed or temperament, should be respected. Any dog can bite if they’re afraid or feel threatened in any way. Even if our intentions are good – a pat, a hug, a kiss – dogs may struggle with having people in their personal space.