By Joe Darby
Sometimes old cliches are true. That man’s best friend is a dog, I think, is one assertion that would be disputed by very few.
I know that I sure love the critters or fur babies as some folks have taken to call them in recent years. I’ve written previously about Baby, my wonderful little poodle-terrier mix who means so much to me at this stage in my life. She also is prominent on my Facebook page and there’s almost always a photo of her at the top.
But I’m not going to talk so much about my own dogs, as the dogs of a group of men who have served as President of the United States. We’ve had some great men and some true scoundrels in that revered office, but one thing many of them had in common is their love of dogs. The information I am using in this column comes from a new book I just got, “All-American Dogs” by Andrew Hagel.
Dogs have been companions to humans for about 10,000 years. So, yeah, we and the pups go way back. We’ve used them for hunting, herding livestock, guarding our property, and, most importantly, for companionship. So, when George Washington, President No. 1, surrounded himself with dozens of dogs of all breeds at his Mount Vernon, Va., home, he was just following in the footsteps of many generations.
One of his favorites was Sweet Lips, who he described as a “perfect fox hound.” He used to take her walking in Philadelphia, to take a break from the burdens of politics. When he was at home at Mount Vernon, he visited his kennels every morning to check on his pack. One time one of his French hounds, Vulcan, sent to him from overseas by the Marquis de Lafayette, stole a ham that was scheduled to be the main course at a dinner for important guests. Although the guests were amused, Martha Washington was less than pleased.
John Adams, the first President to actually occupy the newly-built White House, also had dogs. John and his wife Abigail had two mutts or mixed breeds as we would call them today — Juno and Satan. Abigail once wrote to one of her granddaughters about Juno, “If you love me, you must love my dog.” We can only guess why Satan acquired that rather intimidating name.
James Buchanan, who proceeded Abraham Lincoln in the White House just prior to the Civil War, had a 170-pound Newfie named Lara, who is almost certainly the largest dog ever to live in the White House. Lara slept next to the President and became his personal protector. One Visitor often said she seemed to sleep with one eye open.
Lincoln himself had a beloved mixed, named Fido. Fido was a lovable but temperamental pup. For example, when noisy crowds gathered outside the Lincolns’ Springfield, Ill., home to celebrate his election victory in 1869, Fido hid behind the sofa. So Lincoln felt that Fido would not handle well the long train trip to Washington and left him at home, in the care of some good friends, expecting to be reunited with the dog after his term was up. Alas, it was not to be, as Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
After Buchanan had Lara, Newfoundlands became popular in the US and when Ulysses Grant moved into the White House in 1869, his 11-year-old boy Jesse brought his own Newfie, Faithful, with the family to Washington. The Grants had lost other pets in recent years so the general said he would fire the entire White House staff if anything happened to Faithful.
So, these tales (tails?) will do for a start. This column will have two parts. So if you want to read more about Presidential dogs, be sure to look in these spaces next week!