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A house is not a home without a dog

By Robin Russell

“A House is Not a Home without a Dog” is stitched on a pillow in my home. I imagine most of you would agree with that sentiment, but maybe change it to a cat, horse or another favorite animal.

It turns out we’re in good company. By now, you know President-Elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden will bring two German shepherd dogs to the White House with them. One of the dogs, Major, will be the first “first dog” adopted from an animal shelter. The Bidens adopted him in 2018 from the Delaware Humane Society after first fostering him. The family already has Champ, another German shepherd, who is 12. So there will once again be pets in the White House.

Actually, there have been few administrations without them. I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the other “first pets” – those we remember and those we might not. Sunny and Bo, the Obama’s Portuguese water dogs, preceded George and Laura Bushes’ Scottish terriers, Miss Beazley and Barney. Remember Buddy, the Lab, and Sox, the cat, of the Clinton administration? Before them came Millie Bush, a springer spaniel, who lived with George and Barbara Bush. You know Millie “wrote” a New York Times Bestseller, “Millie’s Book,” didn’t you? And some of us can’t forget Him and Her, Lyndon Johnson’s beagles.

If we go back to the White House when Washington, D.C. was rural, we see the resident animals reflected that. There were numerous horses, chickens and other farm animals. Some of the animals were even exotic. Here are some fun facts about those times:

  • Millard Fillmore was a founding member and president of the ASPCA of Buffalo, N.Y.
  • Calvin Coolidge received a raccoon to serve for Thanksgiving. Instead, he pardoned it, named her Rebecca, and kept her as a pet.
  • Woodrow Wilson kept a herd of sheep to trim the White House lawn, thus reducing maintenance costs.
  • John Quincy Adams kept an alligator in a White House bathroom.
  • James K. Polk was one of few presidents to have no White House animals.

Moving a little closer to home, did you know the “first cat” of Kansas came from the Dumb Friends League? Frances, a short-haired calico, roams the governor’s Cedar Crest mansion and its grounds in Topeka. How did she get there? Credit a former League volunteer with expanding our influence to the east!

Then there’s Gia, the “first dog” of Colorado. While not from the League, she’s a rescued terrier whose people are Governor Jared Polis, his partner First Gentleman Marlon Reis and their two children. Reis is an animal welfare advocate and freelance writer who engages with the Colorado animal welfare community, including the League. He did a virtual GROWL update with Apryl and others in September, which is posted on the League’s Intranet.

Did you know Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and his family adopted a dog from the League in 2018? The dog is lovingly referred to as the Floof in Chief!

So you can see, we’re not the only ones who think “A House is Not a Home without a Dog”…or cat…or alligator for that matter!


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