Friday, January 22, 2010

George Washington and His Dogs

Today is the birthday of George Washington.  He is very, very old.  In fact, he is so old that he is dead now, but we can still celebrate his birthday anyway.  When Mom was a little girl, she used to get to stay home from school on February 22 because it was Washington's Birthday.  But then all the other presidents got jealous, so now there is a holiday called "Presidents' Day" and it's always on a Monday so that people can have a long weekend.  Well, at least they can if they work for the government or for a bank or a school.

Anyway, the reason that we like to remember Mr. George Washington is because he was a very famous general in the army during the Revolutionary War, and after that he was the very first president ever of the United States.  Which means that President Washington's dogs were the first First Dogs in the entire history of our country.

But President Washington did not have his dogs in the White House.  This was partly because the White House hadn't been built yet.  So mostly President Washington left his dogs at his home, which was called Mt. Vernon.  Here's a picture of it.  Mom visited Mt. Vernon one time, but she did not see any dogs there at that time.

The kind of dogs that President Washington liked best were foxhounds.  He liked these dogs because he did a lot of fox hunting.  See, he was what you call a "gentleman farmer."  This meant he had a nice farm and a bunch of slaves to do all the hard work on the farm.  So he had a lot of free time that he didn't have to spend picking beans, and he could spend it fox hunting with the other gentleman farmers of the neighborhood.

Fox hunting was not much fun for foxes, but the hounds had a good time doing it, and so did the people and their horses.  Speaking just from a dog's point of view, I think I would really like to go fox hunting.  But Mom says I would never be able to keep up with the fox because you have to run really fast and jump over fences and stone walls and stuff like that.  This might be hard on my knee that has arthritis in it, so maybe I could just hunt a slow fox.  But I don't think Mom would even let me do that because she says that fox hunting is cruel to foxes, so if I want to hunt something, I can go lure coursing and chase a plastic bag.

But anyway, getting back to President Washington.  He is often said to be the father of our country, even though he never had any children.  But did you know that he was also the father of the American foxhound?  It makes more sense to call him this because he did have lots of foxhounds, even though he didn't have any kids.  And the way he became the father of the American foxhound was that a friend of his in France, the Marquis de LaFayette, gave him seven large stag hounds as a gift.  Then Mr. Washington bred these stag hounds with his black-and-tan hounds, and that eventually made a new kind of foxhound.

Mr. Washington kept diaries and wrote letters, and he used to write about his dogs and the way he was trying to make better foxhounds.  He had more than 30 hounds, and he made lists of all of them by name.  Three of them were called Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy.  I don't think Mr. Washington really let his dogs get drunk, but maybe I am wrong about that.

The slaves who lived at Mt. Vernon were not allowed to have dogs.  If they were caught owning a dog, they were punished, and the dog was hung.  This seems very mean to me, especially the part about hanging the dog, because it wasn't the dog's fault who owned him.  The reason Mr. Washington didn't want his slaves to have dogs was because he was afraid they would train the dogs to steal things.  Here's what Mr. Washington wrote one time in a letter:  "It is not for any good purpose Negroes raise or keep dogs, but to aid them in their night robberies, for it is astonishing to see the command under which their dogs are."  Which just goes to show that African-Americans were really the first "dog whisperers" in America!


  1. I e-mailed your web address to my 11 year old nephew, whose new best friend is an American Fox Hound/Lab. I think he would really like to know all this information.
    Aunt Lynn

  2. Dear Aunt Lynn,
    I am sure your nephew will like to learn about President Washington and his dogs. Usually all we hear about him is how he chopped down that cherry tree, which maybe he did and maybe he didn't. But we know for sure that he had foxhounds, and having dogs is always better than having cherries, at least in my opinion.