On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden complained about the “poisonous atmosphere” enveloping Washington. Republicans are ignoring his calls for amity, and it seems that his pets are, too. First Lady Jill Biden’s office announced that the president’s German shepherd, Commander, has been removed from the White House for repeated violent incidents, including biting members of the staff and Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Biden.
Commander is a two-year-old German Shepherd. The latest incident took place on Monday when he bit a member of the Secret Service. This is the eleventh confirmed episode of violent behavior by Biden’s pets, mostly involving Commander’s aggression toward Secret Service agents; it is believed that there were more undocumented attacks.
In a statement from the First Lady’s office, which did not mention the dog’s fate, the spokeswoman said that “the President and First Lady care deeply about the safety of those who work at the White House and those who protect them every day.” She added that they “remain grateful for the patience and support of the U.S. Secret Service and all involved, as they continue to work through solutions.” In July, when it emerged that there had been numerous violent incidents involving the president’s dogs, the first lady’s spokeswoman said in another statement that the White House complex “is a unique and often stressful environment for pets.”
The conservative group Judicial Watch revealed that there had been 10 German shepherd attacks on Secret Service agents between October 2022 and January 2023. The right-wing group received 194 pages of documentation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Judicial Watch claims it filed the request after receiving a tip about the German shepherd’s behavior. Those documented incidents include bites to the arm and hand of an agent who had to be treated in the hospital in November 2022.
Commander arrived at the White House in December 2021, when he was three months old. At the time, Biden posted a welcome message on Twitter along with a video showing the president playing with him. “Meet the newest Biden,” he wrote. The Bidens had recently said goodbye to Champ, one of their two German shepherds, who died in June at age 13. In 2021, Major, another of the president’s German shepherds, was removed from the White House for at least two biting attacks at the presidential residence. Major went from living in an animal shelter to the White House but did not adapt to the rules of his new home. Both he and Champ were moved at the time, but only the latter returned to the White House.
A longstanding tradition
Joe Biden’s dogs brought back the tradition of American heads of state having pets, after Donald Trump broke with the century-long custom. In fact, it is such a deep-rooted tradition that there is even a Presidential Pet Museum.
Most presidents have had dogs or cats, but there have also been less common animals. According to the Presidential Pet Museum website, the first U.S. president, George Washington, who served from 1789 to 1797, had over a dozen horses and 12 dogs. Thomas Jefferson, president from 1801 to 1809, had two bear cubs and a mockingbird. John Quincy Adams (president from 1825 to 1829) brought an alligator to the White House and kept it locked in one of the bathrooms. William Howard Taft, who held office from 1909 to 1913, was the last one to have a cow on the White House lawn; quite a few of his predecessors also had bovines at the presidential residence. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) had several snakes; William McKinley (1897-1901) had a parrot; and William Henry Harrison had a billy goat for the 32 days he was president in 1841, before he died of pneumonia. With a pig, a turkey, a rabbit, ponies, goats, dogs and cats, Abraham Lincoln practically had a farm at the White House.
Although they fall into the category of presidential pets, not all of the animals lived in the White House; sometimes they were on loan at the zoo or sent elsewhere. That helps to understand how Calvin Coolidge and his wife had several dogs, a donkey, some canaries, a goose and a lynx, as well as lion cubs, a pygmy hippopotamus, a bear and a wallaby, animals that were given to them by foreign heads of state.
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