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‘First pets’ are back: Biden’s dogs settle in at the White House

Champ and Major, President Biden's two dogs, on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday
Champ and Major, President Biden’s two German shepherds, on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday.
(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

The patter of paws is being heard in the White House again following the arrival of President Biden’s dogs, Champ and Major. The two German shepherds are the first pets to live at the executive mansion since the Obama administration.

Major burst onto the national scene late last year after Biden, then president-elect, broke his right foot while playing with the dog at their home in Wilmington, Del.

The Bidens adopted Major in 2018 from the Delaware Humane Assn. Champ joined the family after the 2008 presidential election that made Biden vice president.

The two dogs moved into the White House on Sunday, following Biden’s inauguration last week.

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“The first family wanted to get settled before bringing the dogs down to Washington from Delaware,” said Michael LaRosa, spokesperson for First Lady Jill Biden. “Champ is enjoying his new dog bed by the fireplace, and Major loved running around on the South Lawn.”

The dogs were heard barking outside, presumably in approval, as Biden signed an executive order in the Oval Office lifting the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Major, a German shepherd, will become the first White House shelter dog. The pandemic has fueled pet adoptions, “one of the few silver linings to COVID,” one animal rescue official says.

Last week, the Delaware Humane Assn. co-sponsored an “indoguration” virtual fundraiser to celebrate Major’s ascension from shelter pup to first dog. More than $200,000 was raised.

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Major is the first shelter dog ever to live in the White House and “barking proof that every dog can live the American dream,” the association said.

The Bidens had promised to bring the dogs with them to the White House. They plan to add a cat, though no update on a feline arrival was shared Monday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki predicted that the cat would “dominate the internet” when it arrives.

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President Trump, a self-described germaphobe, does not own any pets and had none with him at the White House.

Harry Truman once famously said that, “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog” — and many successors have followed Truman’s advice. George H.W. Bush said: “There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog to help you get through the rough spots.”

Theodore Roosevelt had Skip, described by the White House Historical Assn. as a “short-legged Black and Tan mongrel terrier brought home from a Colorado bear hunt.” Warren G. Harding had Laddie Boy, who sat in on meetings and had his own Cabinet chair. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his beloved terrier Fala. At night, Fala slept in a special chair at the foot of the president’s bed.

Bush’s English springer spaniel, Millie, was featured on “The Simpsons” and starred in a bestseller, “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush.” Hillary Clinton followed Barbara Bush’s lead with a children’s book about family dog Buddy and cat Socks: “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.”

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President Clinton's cat, Socks, peers over the lectern in the White House briefing room in 1994.
(Marcy Nighswander / Associated Press)

When he declared victory in the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama told his daughters: “You have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” Several months later, Bo joined the family, a gift from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. A few years later, fellow Portuguese water dog Sunny arrived.

Among the stranger White House pets was Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Coolidge’s raccoon, Rebecca. She was given to the Coolidge family by a supporter who suggested the raccoon be served for Thanksgiving dinner, according to the White House Historical Assn. But she instead got a collar embroidered with the title “White House Raccoon” and entertained children at the White House Easter Egg Roll.


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