Monday, February 20, 2012

Of Greatness, Dogs, and Great Dogs
by Professor Andrea Defusco-Sullivan on September 26, 2010
What do George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln have in common?
Brilliant minds? Eloquence? Patriotism?
But if the axiom “great minds think alike” is true, their like-mindedness centered around something particularly interesting…and furry. They were all dog-lovers.

George Washington’s character as a general and as president is well-known, but less publicized is the fact that he was the father of the American Foxhound breed in the United States. Just before the War of Independence, Washington paid for the safe passage of a pack of young foxhounds from England. In 1785, his friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, sent him three French foxhounds as a gift. The British hounds and the French hounds were bred, producing the hearty, good-natured American Foxhound.  He often mentioned his beloved dogs in his diaries, including one hound who routined vexed Martha Washington by breaking into their pantry and stealing whole Virginia hams.
Psychology Today suggests a link between dog ownership and greatness in a January 22, 2009 article. Stanley Coren, Ph.D., notes the character of some famous dog lovers, including General Washington:
That article contains a vignette which perfectly illustrates Washington’s honorable character as both a man and a dog lover:
During the Battle of Germantown, which was not going well for the Americans, Washington was encamped at Pennibecker’s Mill. On October 6, 1777, a little terrier was seen wandering the area between the American and British lines.  It turns out that General Howe’s little terrier had somehow gotten loose and had become lost on the battlefield. The dog was identified from its collar, and brought to Washington. His officers suggested that he might want to keep the dog as a sort of trophy which might weaken the morale of the British general. Instead he took the dog into his tent, fed him and had him brushed and cleaned. Then, to the surprise of everyone, Washington ordered a cease fire. The shooting stopped and soldiers on both sides watched as one of Washington’s aides formally returned a little dog to the British commander under a flag of truce.

Other Founding Fathers loved canines as well. John and Abigail Adams had two mixed-breed dogs: “Satan”, which was John’s dog, and “Juno”, Abigail’s puppy. In her letters, Abigail famously wrote “If you love me….you must love my dog.”

Benjamin Franklin acted as spoiled “grandfather” to his son’s Newfoundland, taking him on long walks and bringing him special treats during each visit. Thomas Jefferson loved the affable herding dog, Briards, so much that he not only imported a pregnant female from France, he routinely gave puppies to landowning friends, including James Madison. Abraham Lincoln’s dog, Fido, a lab mix, was well-known to be so spoiled that he ate at the table with the family. The hub-bub of the White House scared Fido terribly, so Lincoln made an incredible sacrifice–he gave Fido to trusted friends in Springfield, Illinois, with strict instructions to care for and love Fido. Subsequently, Lincoln became the owner of the first White House cat, Tabby, to whom Lincoln would give “belly-rubs” for hours at a time.
I think it’s worth noting that most of my colleagues and friends at ACHLS have loved, and been loved by dogs.  Dean and Professor Michael Chesson owns the very handsome Mick and has rescued cats as well as dogs from shelters; Lynne Snierson, our crackerjack PR person and admissions officer, owns one  dapper (and lucky) 13-year-old Sheltie named Reggie. My colleague in the writing program, Attorney and Professor Ruth-Ellen Post, still speaks fondly of  her now-departed family dog, whose loss is still fresh to her. 
Is there a link between dog ownership and greatness? Perhaps that axiom can’t be proven, but as I am proud to be owned by my hound, Ben, I do humbly admit that I can only aspire to his loyalty and good nature.

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