The relationship between a man and his dog, or any animal or creature weaker than himself, reveals the core of a man. As President’s Day (Monday, February 20th) approaches, to find proof of this statement we need only to consider the relationships George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had with all creatures, great and small.
As chief executive, founding father George Washington had a pet parrot named Polly (perhaps the first Polly to want a cracker), thirty-six hound dogs, and many horses. During the Revolutionary War, a starving hound dog was allegedly discovered roaming General Washington’s headquarters near Germantown, Pennsylvania. Washington’s men fed the dog but could not decide what to do with it. When someone noticed the name of British commander, General Howe, engraved on the dog’s collar, Washington took immediate action and under a flag of truce returned the no longer hungry dog to its rightful owner. If true, in returning the dog to General Howe, General Washington demonstrated a clear understanding of the precious bond between man and dog.
The first known photograph of a presidential dog (taken in 1861) is of Abraham Lincoln’s mongrel, Fido. Fido was a sensitive dog quite frightened of loud noises and not fond of commotion or strangers. Therefore, when the Lincoln family moved from Springfield, Illinois to the White House, for Fido’s sake, honest Abe left the dog behind in the care of family friends with strict instructions to spoil Fido with the occasional table scrap and never tie him up. To ensure Fido’s comfort, Abraham Lincoln moved the dog’s favorite horsehair sofa to the dog’s new home. While in the White House, Lincoln gave his son, Tad, another dog more accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Washington life and reportedly rejoiced along with Tad when the dog had puppies. In April, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; Fido was present when the train carrying his master’s body arrived home in Springfield.
From George Washington’s Polly to Abraham Lincoln’s Fido to Bill Clinton’s cat, Socks, to Barack Obama’s Portuguese water dog, Bo, animals stir the instinctive human need for mutual love and caring. I don’t know about you, but I like to envision a nurturing individual in the White House and appreciate the mental image of George Washington feeding crackers to Polly, or Abe Lincoln sitting on the floor petting puppies. Photos of Bill Clinton happily greeting Socks or President Obama walking through the White House with Bo at his heels give me a good feeling. Contrast these animal caretakers with presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, who drove twelve hours from Boston to Ontario with Seamus, his Irish Setter, in a dog crate fastened to the roof of his car. Despite being frightened to the point of illness, Seamus was reportedly not permitted inside the car.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
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