Over the years, many presidents have brought their pets to the White House. As famous as presidents are, sometimes, their dogs are as popular–– if not more so. These dogs often receive fan mail and the attention of the press. They’ve even been known to turn the tides of presidential elections!
There are six presidential dogs who are famous for their role as the White House’s First Dog. They include Nixon’s Spaniel Checkers and Lincoln’s pal, Fido.
Abraham Lincoln’s Fido
In commercials or on television, people often talk about a generic dog by calling them Fido. However, the popularity of this ubiquitous dog name started with Abraham Lincoln’s dog, Fido. Although Fido, a golden lab mix, didn’t go with Lincoln to the White House, he is the first presidential dog photographed.
Fido lived with friends of President Lincoln while he worked at the White House. The dog spent his days hiking alongside humans, bounding down trails, and soaking up the sun. He was very friendly, but he often jumped on people to greet them with two large, dirty paws.
One day, Fido met a drunken man named Charles Planck on the road. Planck, in his addled state, mistook the dog’s friendliness for aggression and inflicted fatal injuries. This led to the dog’s demise. Ironically, both Fido and his owner suffered the same fate: assassination.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fala
A cousin gave Franklin D. Roosevelt his Scottish Terrier, Fala, as a Christmas present in 1940. FDR named the dog after his Scottish outlaw ancestor, John Murray of Falahill. Fala quickly drew the attention of the press and was beloved by many.
FDR often took Fala with him on trips. Once President Roosevelt met General MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Pacific to discuss war plans, Fala got away from the soldier ordered to watch him. The dog wandered to the soldiers’ quarters for scraps. When they found the dog later, he had several locks of hair shaved off. One sailor took a lock of his hair to send back home to his little brother, and others followed suit.
Rumors also began circulating that FDR was using taxpayer money to transport and retrieve his dog. President Roosevelt dispelled these rumors with a famous speech on the radio. He said Fala was outrated at these allegations, noting: “...his Scottish soul was furious! He has not been the same dog since.”
Lyndon B. Johnson’s Him and Her
President Lyndon B. Johnson loved dogs, especially beagles. Once he moved into the White House, Johnson had the doghouse enlarged to meet the needs of his first family pets. The press referred to the new home as a palace after its renovations, and Johnson’s dogs lived a privileged life full of affection.
The first two of Johnson’s beagles to catch the eyes of the U.S. were Him and Her. A famous picture of President Johnson pulling up Him’s ears made the canine the equivalent of an Instagram Icon.
Once the photo hit the press, some people sent fan mail to the adorable dog. Others were angry at the injustice of Him’s ears being held up to the camera! Johnson later issued a public apology, stating that he had pulled the dog’s ears like that since he was a puppy, and he didn’t think the dog minded it.
Later, Him and Her had a litter of pups. These two dogs, Kim and Freckles, also stayed in the Johnson family.
Richard Nixon’s Checkers
Richard Nixon is an infamous president. However, before the American people elected Nixon president, his Cocker Spaniel, Checkers, saved his political career. Before one of Nixon’s elections, people were circulating rumors that Nixon was misusing funds. So, to dispel these rumors, Nixon appeared on national TV to deliver an unscripted speech.
In the speech, he said that one of the campaign gifts he received was the Cocker Spaniel, whom his daughter named Checkers. This story framed Nixon as an ordinary person, which some experts claim saved his political career. Nixon delivered the speech eight years to the day after FDR delivered his radio speech about Fala!
Checkers became one of the most famous presidential dogs in history. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see Nixon as president. He passed away in 1964 at the age of 13.
Joe Biden’s Champ and Major
President Joe Biden adopted Major, a German Shepherd, in 2018. Major was the first rescue dog to live in the White House. This was a great way to bring awareness to the many animals either euthanized or rehomed throughout the U.S.
The Bidens also had an older dog, Champ, who had been a part of the family for many years. Both pooches lived in the White House when Joe Biden became president in 2021.
However, Major was unable to adapt to life at the White House. There were several reports of him nipping at staff members. The Bidens sent him back to their home in Delaware to get additional training, but after more incidents, they decided to send him back. These incidents received a lot of press.
Then, in June 2021, President Biden’s dog Champ passed away. As of December 2021, President Biden had a new purebred German Shepherd in the White House, named Commander. Unfortunately, he, too, had to go back to Biden’s Delaware home after several biting incidents. There is no current dog living at the White House.
Presidential Pups: Companions in the White House
These six commanding canines gained the popular vote and won the hearts of Americans. Many of these dogs gained notoriety from their celebrity owners, but they remained popular on their own merits. Some were famous for sad or mischievous reasons; others because they were adorable or beneficial to the president’s political career.
No matter what, these First Dogs served the country by providing their support and love to some of the most famous U.S. presidents. Who knows who the next Commander-in-Canine will be!