A Major story: weaponizing presidential pets

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Presidential pets have always been a fascinating subject for the press and public alike, but no other canine companion has captivated people's hearts like Major Biden, the first shelter dog to live in the White House. After the "inpawguration", while the adorable German Shepherd pup was still adjusting to the new environment at a time when masks were mandatory making it all that much harder for a young dog to read facial expressions, reports of nipping incidents started to emerge.

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Major Biden is not the first presidential pooch to generate headlines, this write-up could very well be titled A Tale of Two Majors: one of FDR's many beloved pets, also a German Shepherd named Major, bit Sen. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas during a party thrown by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. According to an article in the New York Times, it “wasn’t a bad bite, just a scratch that made a momentary bit of excitement.”

Andrew Hager, the In-House Historian at the Presidential Pet Museum, told Denver 7 News that in 1933, Major Roosevelt tore the British prime minister’s pants, the first time PM Ramsay MacDonald came to visit Roosevelt. Staff had to find a new pair of pants before the PM could modestly take his leave. President Theodore Roosevelt's dog Pete, a bull terrier mix, described by The White House Historical Association as "the naughtiest dog ever to call the White House home," attacked the French ambassador Jean Jusserand and chased him up a tree (...) ripping off his pants." In September 2008, Barney Bush, a Scottish Terrier, bit Boston Celtics PR director Heather Walker on the wrist, breaking the skin and drawing blood, but the incident was not reported until after the November 4 elections. On November 6, Barney bit Reuters news reporter Jon Decker's finger.

Despite the fact that so many other presidential pets have caused trouble in the past, no legal action of any kind was ever taken in relation to the biting incidents they have been involved in, some of which, we assume, might not even be known to the public - probably because the political climate was more conducive to bipartisanship, decency and common sense at the time.

Major Biden is the only pet in history whose less than perfect behavior was considered reason enough by Judicial Watch to "file a FOIA lawsuit against the United States Department of Homeland Security for records of communication between Secret Service officials assigned to the White House regarding the Biden family dogs." While we are not minimizing Major's biting incidents, the lawsuit does seem to transform both Major and his late brother Champ into political weapons, even though Judicial Watch describe themselves as "a conservative non-partisan educational foundation".

Two months later, the same day that 13 Service Members died in a bomb attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport as American troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan, Judicial Watch tweeted the "Breaking news: Secret Service Records Show Biden Dog Major Repeatedly Bit Secret Service Personnel." Information pertaining to a doo doo accident attributed to Champ who had already passed away and was almost 14 at the time of the deed, was also part of the now exposed "cover-up". The 36 pages of documents do reveal that Kimberly Cheatle, the assistant director of Secret Service Protective Operations, when informed about the FOIA lawsuit, responded: “This is ridiculous.”

Champ Biden didn't escape absurd attacks either, despite the fact that he was a senior dog and his health was deteriorating. In February, Newsmax TV host Greg Kelly and two "presidential historians", in an embarrassing display of journalistic "prowess", commonly agreed on live TV that the 13 year old Champ looks "rough, like a junkyard dog, dirty and disheveled and very unlike a presidential dog", implying he is not loved or cared for properly. The tweet which prompted the Newsmax segment could not have been less benign on its own, but in juxtaposition with Ted Cruz's dog Snowflake being left in a home without electricity and heat as Texas froze over, it became an image issue. As a consequence, because @TheOvalPawffice handle was displayed on screens across the country for minutes on end, our Twitter account got reported en masse by right wing loyalists and suspended. Thanks to Gipper, our adorable canine counsel who luckily helped us pro bone-o, we were proved innocent and shortly afterwards, reinstated.

Politics is and always has been a messy business, but no presidential pets have been subject to similar incursions in the past. It is entirely possible that the White House has not released any new photos or videos of Major in months, exactly for this reason - but people love DOTUS Major and they want to see him, they shouldn't be deprived of that bit of joy. Those looking to politicize Major in a negative way will continue to do so, regardless.

We hope, as Champ sadly is no longer here, that Major will get a a feline sibling soon and the First Dog and upcoming First Cat will not be the recipients of such distasteful sentiments in the future.

Pawed by:

Poppet, Charlie and Winston

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