Barking news: Political pets are relevant again

After four years of an animal-free White House, Major Biden sparks joy, and pain, to Biden’s staff and beyond.

While most of the world was still deeply enthralled with Fearless: Taylor’s Version, first lady Jill Biden’s press secretary announced that President Joe Biden’s youngest dog, Major, would once again attend training in the Washington D.C. area. The dog had an incident with biting a Secret Service agent, leading to a “time-out” for a brief time in Delaware, and a second incident with nipping an officer of the National Park Service. Major’s older counterpart, Champ, meanwhile has had no such issues.

For many, pets are a unifying aspect of our Democracy. Any sort of political pup (or cat) is blissfully separated from its owner’s position on policy, which makes them useful for parading on social media and having as a partner on stump speeches. For Jill and Joe Biden, Major was especially important due to his adoption from the Delaware Humane Association (DHA)  that made him the very first shelter dog to grace the White House.

In the aftermath of Major Biden’s second biting incident, Biden’s Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, came to the pup’s defense by stating that he enjoys his boss’ dogs. Buttigieg told TMZ: “The first time I went in for an oval office meeting, Major was there and I said a quick hello. We got along pretty well.”

Buttigieg himself is quite a fan of dogs. He has two (Buddy and Truman) that he shares with his husband Chasten. For much of the 2020 Presidential race, the dogs got quite a bit of attention with a Marie Claire title that read: “Why Do Pete Buttigieg and Chasten Glenzmen’s Dogs have Better Social Media Game Than I Do?” The Instagrams have been quiet as of late, but in the past, there have been photos of the dogs in the car and on walks.

Similarly, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s dog, Bailey, had more than 15 minutes of fame as he had his own role on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, and had a taste of going viral when he ate a burrito.

Since John Quincy Adams’s kids and alligator, Americans have loved seeing young children in the White House, and if children are absent, there is an expectation of some sort of pet. Many feel that the good humor that politicians have around their pets is often indicative of how they handle the difficult discussions behind closed doors. Donald Trump was the first President in 150 years not to have a pet at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, claiming that he did not have any time. Barack Obama promised his two daughters that if he were elected, they would get a hypoallergenic dog (Malia Obama has allergies.) They adopted Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, and later added Sunny to the family. Ronald Reagan walked his dog with UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,  and it has been argued that Nixon’s “Checkers Speech’' about his new dog changed the course of his campaign.

However, pets do not always spell good news for politicians. April 11th marked National Pet Day, and former Presidential contender and current New York City Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang decided to mark the occasion, tweeting the story of when his family adopted a pup named “Grizzly”; however, he and his family had to give Grizzly away due to one of his sons developing allergies to the pet. He followed the story with #dogsforyang.

Most of the comments were confused as to why Yang would post that he rehomed the dog on National Pet Day, and others were confused because the fluffy white dog seemed to be a poodle, which may be hypoallergenic. Most of the comments were different riffs on “you get that you didn’t have to tweet this, right?”

Politicians have used their (sometimes eccentric) pets for humor and political leverage for a long time. In the case of Major Biden, his “barking news” has brought pain to Secret Service agents, but entertainment to the greater American public.