The last week has been a roller coaster of emotions: waiting for days for votes to be counted, the relief on Saturday realizing that we would finally be moving our country into a better direction, and of course, the aftermath which has continued as we have watched as a sitting president refuses to accept the results of the election. It’s scary stuff, but I think most of us are also filled with hope, and at least for me, a small part of that comes from knowing that dogs are moving back into the White House!
Since my earliest memories, dogs have been the biggest sources of joy and comfort in the good times, and in the hardest. As an LGBTQ+ person, I have experienced judgement, rejection, and discrimination from people, but through it all, dogs have been at my side to make me laugh and lick away my tears. Those of us who share our lives with dogs know that dogs make us better people, and so I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Biden’s dogs Major and Champ moving into The White House as the First Dogs of the United States are doing a lot to bring joy, loyalty, and trust back to our country.
Pets have historically been an important part of life for American Presidents. Donald Trump is the first president in over 100 years to not have a dog in the White House. The last time the residence was without a dog occurred in the 1860s, when Andrew Johnson had a pet-less administration (for those of you who are super curious about presidential pets, don’t miss the Presidential Pet Museum’s website)! There are obviously so many things worth critiquing, criticizing, and being upset about regarding the Trump presidency, but I think it’s worth noting how unusual it is that he didn’t have a dog — or any pets at all.
It’s no secret that Trump isn’t a pet person, but in 2019, he was public about not wanting to bring a dog into his life. “How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?” he once asked at a campaign rally. “Feels a little phony, phony to me.”
He’s right. It would look phony, because dogs are earnest, joyful, loving beings — something that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand. From the things he’s said to the executive orders and policy positions he has pushed forward, Trump has shown that he is incapable of compassion, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he is incapable of understanding the value of canine companionship.
Most of us remember the sweet moment when President Obama won the 2008 election and, in his speech, said that he had promised his daughters that they would get a dog. Soon, the Obama’s Portuguese Water Dogs Bo and then Sunny moved into the White House to the clear delight of the Obama family and the nation who watched their antics. After the 2008 election, the Bidens also brought home a puppy: their German Shepard Champ. Jill Biden had promised Joe that, after the election, they too would get a puppy, and during the 2008 election, she would tape pictures of dogs on the back of the soon-to-be Vice President’s seat on his campaign plane!
President-elect Joe Biden has had a long history with German Shepherds “I’ve had German Shepherds since I was a kid, and I’ve actually trained them and shown them in the past,” Biden told ABC in 2008. As someone who loves to train and compete in various canine sports with my dogs, I haven’t been able to find out more about what kind of training/showing the President-elect used to do, but this news honestly made me respect him more. To dedicate yourself to dogs requires a calmness and a patience, a willingness to connect deeply with a different species, to grow and learn together – all characteristics that, at least in my mind, will help him to govern the nation fairly and compassionately.
Champ Biden became a bit of a Washington celebrity during the Obama-Biden administration, and Champ stuffed animals were even given by Vice President Biden to comfort children during natural disasters. In an interview with the Washington Post in 2017, Jill Biden explained that, of her whole family, it was Champ who was going to have the hardest time adjusting as they prepared to leave the official residence of the Vice Presidential family. “Champ has a built-in family here 24 hours a day with all the staff and security guards that keep little dog biscuits on hand for him,” she said. Champ is a Washington pro, and he now gets to show his little (and more internet famous) brother Major around the White House. The Biden family found Major as a puppy at the Delaware Humane Society and adopted him in 2018. He is now making history as the first shelter dog to call the White House home!
The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has been a beacon of home for so many people across the United States and (literally) around the world. At the same time, and perhaps a part of this overwhelming sense of joy, the world has fallen instantly in love with these two pups and the idea of there being dogs back in the White House. I believe there is something tender, special, and vulnerable about watching people spend time with their dogs, so it’s no wonder that, after the last presidency, people are excited to welcome in a new administration that values joy, kindness, loyalty — and, of course, dogs. Since the election, fan accounts dedicated to the dogs (which looked official and fooled many people, myself included) went viral, garnering tens of thousands of followers. These accounts are no longer active, but hopefully like Bailey Warren (Elizabeth Warren’s Golden Retriever Bailey), the Biden dogs will get their own official social media accounts soon. Kamala Harris does not (yet!) have a dog of her own, but she is officially a fan of dogs. In a popular tweet from 2019’s National Pet Day, Harris shared a collection of dog pictures with the caption, “Dogs are always welcome in my Senate office – here are a few paw-licy advisors who regularly stop by.”
As a queer dog trainer, it’s no secret that dogs are the center of my life and that my world pretty much revolves around trying to help people live more engaged and compassionate lives with their dogs. In my darkest moments — growing up in an abusive childhood home, running away from home as a teenager to escape homophobia, and in my hardest moments as an adult — it has been dogs, my own and those of others, that have gotten me through. Dogs are not just pets or companions, they are my muses and my inspiration. Dogs help me to see the fun and beauty in the world. Dogs inspire me to attempt living each day to the fullest, to be centered and grounded, and to focus closely on daily joyful moments — the big ones and the small ones.
Knowing there will once again be dogs running and playing across the White House grass is a tremendous source of comfort, and after the last four years, I think we all need a little bit of the kind of joy only dogs can bring.