Major and Major: 2 presidential dogs with 1 story

Posted at 4:00 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 19:44:43-04

DENVER — President Biden may have a major problem on his hands at the White House.

Joe Biden's dog Major
Joe Biden's 3-year-old rescue dog, Major.

Since his "Indoguration" earlier this year, Major Biden, a German Shepherd and the White House's first shelter dog, has been causing problems lately. Earlier this year, he bit a Secret Service agent and was sent back to the Bidens' home in Delaware for discipline training. Almost as soon as he returned in late March, he bit a National Park Service employee.

There was even a stinky situation at The White House on Wednesday, when pool reporters noticed dog poop near where Major and his older brother, Champ, were walking around. It's not clear which of the two did their business.

While Major has captured the nation's attention for his antics and, well, being a dog, he's not the first presidential pooch to cause trouble on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In fact, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also had a major problem of his own.

Courtesy: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

Meet Major Roosevelt, one of FDR's many pets. The similarities are striking; They're both German Shepherds, they have the same name and they both had a biting problem.

Major was a former police dog donated by New York State Police, back when FDR was governor of the Empire State.

But President Roosevelt's Major caused significantly more trouble than his successor.

"There were a couple of incidents," Andrew Hager, the In-House Historian at the Presidential Pet Museum told Denver7.

"The more commonplace one is that he would terrorize the White House maids. He would chase them around. He probably thought this was a game. And they would have to kind of keep him at bay with their dust mops and their brooms. And maybe that was fun for him. But it was not fun for the maids."

In one case, a tourist visiting the White House stuck his hand through the fence to pet Major and he bit that person.

According to a New York Times article published in 1933, Major also bit a U.S. Senator from Arkansas, Hattie Caraway, during a party hosted by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

New York Times article written in 1933 describing an incident where President FDR's German Shepherd dog, Major, bit a U.S. senator during a party at the White House.
Courtesy: New York Times,

But it doesn't stop there. In 1933, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald came to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt for the first time at a state dinner. That's also when MacDonald became "acquainted" with Major.

"Major nipped at him and actually ripped the bottom out of the Prime Minister's pants, which was very embarrassing for everyone," Hager said.

"As you can imagine, this is a bit of an international incident. I mean, that's not really the kind of reception you want to give an ally, when they show up for dinner, they had to try to find alternate pants for the prime minister to wear out of the White House, because, you know, he couldn't be walking out in his drawers."

That incident sent Major back to the Roosevelts' private home in Hyde Park, New York. But unlike today's furry friend, FDR's Major would not return to the White House.

Major Roosevelt

While these kinds of episodes may seem shocking by today's standards, Hager explained the difference in political climate may have given the former President some slack.

"It was a much more wild and woolly atmosphere at the White House than what you've seen recently, and I think, in part, that's because of the media coverage we have now... This is kind of a little bit of a black eye for the Bidens because they've been using Major and Champ almost like mascots."

Hager went on to note that dogs, especially German Shepherds, have their own houses for a good reason. "The White House is not really a soothing, relaxing place to live, even for the pets. You know, like, there's just so many people around and there's so much going on," he said.

"Sometimes we expect perfection from dogs, and they're not always able to give us that, like, dogs have bad days, too, you know. And especially we get a dog that's got anxiety, or that's just moved to a new home... I can see that being an issue."

It's not clear if the Bidens named Major after FDR's dog. Denver7 reached out the Delaware Humane Association, where President Biden adopted Major, but have not heard back yet.