Today we celebrate the birthday of President George Washington. He had no human children, but thefamous father of our country was a doting dad to dozens of dogs.
The majority of them were American Foxhounds; Washington invented the breed in his quest to create, he wrote,”a superior dog, one that had speed, sense and brains.”
In the mid-1780s, the Marquis de Lafayette sent Washington sevenFrench hounds, which theAmerican crossed with his own black and tan hounds to create the new breed ofFoxhound. Do your dogs have to be separated at meal time? Those French hounds did; to avoid fatal foodfights,Washington assigned a servant to monitor their feeding.
Our first president was a first-rate dog lover.
You might evencall hima Dogster.
Consider the namesWashington bestowed on his dogs: Captain, Pilot, Searcher, Sweet Lips, Truelove, Taster, Tipler, Vulcan, Juno, Jupiter. There were many more, including the somewhat less-inspired Rover, Lady Rover, Duchess, and Drunkard.
OK, other than those last four, I dare anyone tocall these anything butexcellent names. Especially Sweet Lips, a moniker that suggests Mr. President gave and got his share of K9 kisses! He obviously observed and appreciated the individualtraits of each dog. The excellence ofhisdogs’namesclearly revealsWashington’s high esteemfor the canine species.
Washingtongave carefulconsiderationto his dogs’ animal instincts and lifestyle needs. In addition to the hounds, he also had a Dalmatian (“coach dog”) named, memorably, Madame Moose. OftheDalmatian, Washington wrote in his diary, “A new coach dog [arrived] for the benefit of Madame Moose; her amorous fits should therefore be attended to.” Washington so lovedhissexy beastthat hefixed her upwith a mail-order husband. And not just any K9 consort, but oneMadame could really relate to, as he was one of her own kind.
That is one seriousdog lover, wouldn’t you say? And a very thoughtful man.
It’s surprising that no portrait exists of Washington with his dogs,not even with one hound. We think of him asa somber, sexless,white-haired figure. But as indicated by the portrait above – the earliest knownone of Washington in military mode,painted in1772by Charles Willson Peale – he was rathera dashingand handsome head-turner. Too bad the artist Reuben Ward Binks was born about a century too late (that’s his portrait of a Foxhound at left).
According to Stanley Coren, author of “The Pawprints of History” (among many other must-read books), it was Washington’s hound Sweet Lips who got him noticed by Elizabeth Powel, the wife of Philadelphia’s influential Mayor Samuel Powel. Here’s how Mrs. Powel described her first encounter withthe man who would become our country’s first president: “His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he was walking with a tall, exceedingly graceful dog of the hound type as he strode down Walnut Street.”
That chance meeting on Walnut led to an invitation to the Gloucester Hunting Club in New Jersey, an old boys’ network if there ever was one. That’s where political allianceswere formedthat ultimately resulted in Washington’s being appointed commander of the Continental Army. The Virginia farmer was well onhis wayto making international history. And all becausehe was spotted by the right person at the right time, while out walkinghis dog. Not just any dog, but the dog Washington proudly described as “a perfect foxhound.”
The moral?Besideevery greatleader is a great dog.
Happy President’s Day!