President-elect Joe Biden has already indicated he will take immediate steps to undo some of the Trump administration’s actions from the past four years.
But the former vice president is also bringing another change come January, one that will likely enjoy strong bipartisan support. After a brief hiatus, dogs are set to return to the Oval Office in 2021. Better fetch the White House leashes, bowls, and chew toys.
Biden and soon-to-be First Lady, Jill, have two German Shepherds, named Champ and Major. The latter is a shelter dog they adopted two years ago, marking the first time in presidential history that such a pet, in modern terms, will take the national spotlight.
“We’re excited because we love animal ownership and seeing the presidents with their pets,” said Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence at the Presidential Pet Museum, which was started by one of President Reagan’s dog groomers. “Seeing a president with a dog is kind of a humanizing thing.”
It’s been four years since a DOTUS — Dog of the United States — has played on the White House lawn. In 2016, Trump became the first president in a century not to own a dog, and the first without a pet of any kind since around the mid-19th century, Hager said.
Presidential pets are a long tradition, from George Washington’s hounds to Bo and Sunny, President Obama’s two Portuguese water dogs.
At a rally in Texas last year, Trump said he didn’t have a dog because as president he was extremely busy and appearing publicly with a pet would come off as disingenuous.
“I wouldn’t mind having one, honestly, but I don’t have any time,” Trump explained to a crowd of supporters. “How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?"
“Feels a little phony to me," he added.
Shortly after Trump was elected, it looked as if a Goldendoodle might become the first dog. But the White House remained pet-free, and Biden took advantage, including dogs in his campaign pitch to voters leading up to Election Day.
On Nov. 1, Biden tweeted “Let’s put dogs back in the White House!” The online post included a 20-second video that showed Trump talking about why he hasn’t welcomed a canine to his administration, followed by an image of Biden standing stoically beside Champ. The video was viewed nearly 2 million times.
In September, a group called “Dog Lovers For Joe” released a video to “inspire people in Red states, Blue states and Swing states that Joe Biden is a good man” focusing on his affection for dogs, the Huffington Post reported.
“Choose your humans wisely,” the group’s website states. “We can all agree on the power of dogs. It’s time we had a dog-lover back in the White House.”
But Major will be new to the scene, and his pending arrival has some animal rescue advocates excited.
Though Hager said Major won’t be the first dog in the White House that was “adopted,” so to speak — President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter, Luci, found the family’s mixed-breed pup in a parking lot, he noted — the shepherd will be the first dog in the Oval Office who came from a shelter in a more traditional sense.
The Bidens adopted Major in 2018 after they initially had fostered him. The couple got the dog from the Delaware Humane Association, according to the group’s Facebook page.
For Mike Keiley, director of adoption centers and programs at the MSPCA-Angell in Boston, the attention around Major’s background could reshape people’s perceptions of taking in rescue dogs.
“The overwhelming thought people have about shelter dogs is that there is something inherently wrong with them,” he said. “So I think this is good validation that a shelter dog is as good as any other dog."
Keiley, who has worked with MSPCA-Angell for 26 years, said it could even sway more people to reach out to adoption centers to help dogs find a permanent home.
“We’ve seen that when presidents in the past have had certain breeds of dog, that those dogs have become automatically popular,” he said. “If this brings more interest to people about adopting from a shelter, then that’s really fantastic.”