The White House halls will once again echo with the pitter-patter of paws come January 2021. Two German shepherds named Champ and Major to be precise, will call the White House home, which means president-elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden will be packing more than just their own personal suitcases.
“A couple of things that a Biden White House is going to need—tennis balls and squeaky toys,” said Ari Shapiro, host of NPR on All Things Considered. “Part of the Biden campaign’s platform was, quote, ‘Let’s put dogs back in the White House. And while we do not take political positions on the show, I think it’s fair to say that as two dog owners, [Ailsa Chang, NPR host], you and I can endorse that particular message.”
President Donald Trump is the first president in more than a century to not own a pet during presidency.
“The tradition of White House pets is so ingrained that Trump drew some suspicion about his lack of a pet,” according to an article in The Washington Post. “It was not until February 2019 that he addressed the matter, explaining that he doesn’t ‘have any time’ and that getting a furry friend ‘feels a little phony.’”
Jennifer B. Pickens, a historian and the author of “Pets at the White House,” noted the political benefits of presidents having pets while in office.
“Pets have played an important role in the White House throughout the decades, not only by providing companionship to the presidents and their families, but also by humanizing and softening their political images,” Pickens told CBS News.
Where these pets come from also has great significance, according to Andrew Hager, the historian-in-residence at the Presidential Pet Museum in Williamsburg, Va. Hager told The Washington Post that Biden’s choice to adopt a shelter dog underscores how animals at the White House have reflected historical trends in American pet ownership. For example, with shelter adoptions skyrocketing in popularity in the past several decades, it is fitting that Major came from a no-kill shelter in Delaware, Hager said. Biden was criticized for purchasing Champ from a breeder in 2008, Hager added.
Cory Topel, a marketing manager at Delaware Humane Association where Major was adopted, told CBS News that she hopes the spotlight on Major raises attention to the work animal shelters do around the country.
“Major showcases the power of possibility for rescue animals everywhere: how a shelter dog, fighting for his life, can end up as the nation’s First Dog Elect,” Topel said. “Our sincere hope is that with a shelter pup like Major headed to the White House, more people will consider pet adoption and support animal shelters.”
While Major is the first shelter pet to land in the White House, he isn’t the first rescue pet. Yuki, a mixed breed pup abandoned by his owner at a gas station in Texas, was rescued by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter Luci was the first, according to a CNN article. Clinton’s cat, Socks, was also a rescue.
Dogs and cats aren’t the only type of pets that have graced the White House grounds. Others have included farm animals, horses and birds.
Forbes has created an infographic estimating the number of White House pets by president from 1789-2021, found here.