Dogs of George and Abe

In Honor of President’s Day

What has history noted about the pets of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? It turns out that George Washington loved dogs and acquired 50 or more during his lifetime, mostly hunting dogs. His friend and patron, Lord Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord and Baron of Cameron, gifted him with a pack of foxhounds in the mid 1700’s for the sport of foxhunting. Washington kept, bred, and hunted with American Foxhounds throughout his life and maintained detailed records and pedigrees of the breed.

In 1785, Washington received several pairs of large French hounds from the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington used the French dogs to increase the size of his American foxhounds. Later, he bred his new strain with an Irish hound to create a faster hunting dog that resulted in the modern AKC American Foxhound. Every morning and evening, Washington visited his foxhounds and inspected their kennels.

His other dogs included a Newfoundland named Grumer, used for duck hunting; an English springer spaniel that flushed birds out of hiding during hunting; and a pack of terriers that kept down the number of rats in the stores of grain. In 1786, Washington paid twelve shilling for a Dalmatian, a “Coach dog” bitch named Madame Moose. In the following year, he purchased a male for breeding.

AbeAbraham Lincoln related differently to his most noted canine companion, Fido, a yellow, mixed-breed dog. Fido, very much a house dog, accompanied Lincoln on his jaunts to town in Springfield, IL. Fido carried parcels home from the market and waited patiently outside Billy the Barber’s while Lincoln went in for a trim. When Lincoln was elected president, he noticed the dog’s terror at all the loud noises during the victory celebration. He felt the dog would fare better in Springfield and arranged for his care with the Roll family with strict instructions. Fido was to remain a “house dog” and they must allow him to live in the house.  If his paws were muddy he was not to be scolded. In addition, he must be permitted to join the Roll family at mealtimes. BecauseFido slept on a favorite horsehair sofa, Lincoln moved the sofa to the Roll household so Fido would feel at home.

Shortly before the Lincolns left for the White House, they took Fido to F.W. Ingmire’s studio in Springfield to have his picture taken. Fido became the first Presidential dog photographed. When Lincoln was assassinated, the public bought all memoirs from Lincoln’s personal life and included Fido’s photo on calling cards.  The name “Fido” became the most popular name in history for dogs.

Ironically, a year after Lincoln’s death John Roll described Fido’s demise. “We possessed the dog for a number of years when one day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing [who] in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. He was buried by loving hands. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog met the fate of his illustrious master – Assassination.”

Lin blogs about pets at She isco-author of “Hey! Can You Hear Us? Messages from Animals,” available from Amazon or from Crystal Spectrum Publications.