When President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January, they’ll be bringing their German Shepherds, 12-year-old Champ and two-year-old Major, with them. Not only will the dogs be filling a notable vacancy—in a break with a century-long tradition, the White House has been dogless since the Obamas moved out in 2017—Major will also make history as the first shelter dog to occupy the celebrated residence.
For Champ, the older of the two dogs, this return to Washington, D.C., is an encore performance. As a puppy, he joined the Biden family shortly before they moved into Number One Observatory Circle, the vice-president’s official residence, in 2009. (He’s reportedly also the reason the Bidens replaced the residence’s carpeting with hardwood floors, a move any dog-lover can sympathize with.) Major, on the other hand, will need to learn the ins and outs of navigating the national capital’s politics-rich environment. Fortunately for both dogs, they’ll have plenty of company and plenty of attention.
The Bidens may be the country’s most prominent “foster fails.” Two years ago, in March 2018, they agreed to foster Major, one of a litter of ailing eight-week-old puppies in the care of the Delaware Humane Association, a no-kill shelter. Ashley, the Biden’s daughter, alerted her parents to the puppies’ plight, and her father followed up, calling DHA with an offer to foster one of the pups. A few months later, the couple officially adopted him.
Biden has a long-standing affection for German Shepherds. A 1954 photo (below) shows young Joe and his brother on their bicycles; at his side is his dog, a big-eared GSD. As he commented on ABC’s This Week in December 2018, “I’ve had German Shepherds since I was a kid and I’ve actually trained them and shown them in the past.”
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President Harry S Truman is often quoted as saying, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” and since the early 20th century, almost all American presidents have taken that advice to heart. Many of the current world leaders have also found dogs to be staunch allies, from French President Emmanuel Macron, who adopted a Labrador/Griffon mix, to India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, whose family has adopted six stray dogs. (Learn more by clicking on this interactive map created by MyPetChild.com, a website that provides a list of nonprofit organizations and veterinary hospitals offering financial support to pet owners facing financial difficulties.)
While it’s impossible to know what the future holds, it seems safe to make at least one prediction: Dogs will be robustly represented in the Biden White House, where the big dogs—unofficially FDOTUS (First Dogs Of The United States)—will take their place in the history of presidential pets.