First Shelter Dog Heads to the White House

The news highlights the growing support for rescue pets everywhere.

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Champ at the vice president's residence
President-elect Joe Biden will bring Champ (pictured here) and Major to the White House. Win McNamee / Getty Images

When Major the German shepherd was a puppy, he spent his early days in an animal shelter in Delaware. Come January, he’ll be packing up his kibble and toys and heading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with President-elect Biden and his wife Jill Biden.

After four years without a pet in the White House, Major and 12-year-old Champ, the family’s other German shepherd, are moving in. 

Major will be the first shelter dog in the presidential home. The news was huge on social media, especially in animal rescue circles where, politics aside, people were happy that rescue dogs were in the spotlight.

“Major Biden’s journey from an animal shelter to the White House is bringing smiles and joy to many Americans. It also affirms that pet homelessness in this country is real, shelter animals make amazing companions and adopting a dog or cat can make all the difference,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, tells Treehugger

“I think it's great and it does speak volumes for adopting rescue dogs,” says Judy Duhr, president of Speak! St. Louis, a special needs rescue based in Missouri, which has more licensed breeders than any other state.

According to the online Presidential Pet Museum, President Trump was the first president since James Polk in the 1840s who didn't have pets in the White House. (That's if you count Andrew Johnson who left flour out at night for a family of white mice.)

A Happy Foster Fail

Major was one of six puppies brought to the Delaware Humane Association in March 2018 after coming in contact with something toxic in their home. Because the owner couldn’t afford veterinary care, the pups were surrendered to the shelter, according to a post on the humane association’s Facebook page.

The Bidens’ daughter, Ashley, saw a post about the puppies and told her parents, who had been looking for a pal for Champ. They agreed to foster a puppy and, after 8 months together, they made it official. They happily became known as a “foster fail,” when fosters adopt their temporary charges.

"We are so happy to welcome Major to the Biden family, and we are grateful to the Delaware Humane Association for their work in finding forever homes for Major and countless other animals," read a statement from the Bidens, signed by the former vice president, his wife, Jill Biden, and Champ.

Growing Interest in Rescue Pets

According to Best Friends Animal Society, of the 5.4 million dogs and cats that entered U.S. shelters in 2019, 79% were saved. A Best Friends survey found that people have “extremely favorable” impressions of rescues and shelters, versus buying pets and 89% said they would consider adopting their next cat or dog.

In the past, there has sometimes been a negative connection with rescue pets. Some people think there is something wrong with them if they have been turned in to a shelter or a rescue. Rescuers are working to change that perception.

(If you haven't already adopted a rescue pet, here are 10 great reasons to adopt a dog.)

Other Presidential Rescues

Johnson's Country Fair
President Lyndon B Johnson introduces Yuki on the South Lawn of the White House in September 1967. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Technically, Major isn’t the first rescue dog to take up residency in the presidential home. He’s the first shelter rescue dog.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was actually a beagle fan and had several registered pups. But on Thanksgiving Day in 1966, daughter Luci Nugent, found a mixed breed at a gas station in Texas. Dubbed Yuki (Japanese for “snow”), the pup lived with Nugent – but not for long. The president became smitten with Yuki, who officially became his dog on his birthday in August 1967.

President Bill Clinton’s cat Socks was reportedly a stray kitten picked up by daughter Chelsea outside her piano teacher’s house. The black cat with white paws reportedly jumped into her arms and soon became a White House fixture.

“Presidential pets have always captivated Americans while occupying a special place in the hearts of their famous parents," the Humane Society's Block told Treehugger. "The love of a companion animal transcends politics.”