He went on to tell the kids about another dog he had while living in Syracuse, where he attended law school, in the 1960s: “He was a German shepherd, and I trained him, I used to show him in dog shows — obedience trials — and you know what his name was?”
Children shouted their guesses at him.
“Senator. I named him Senator. Truly,” said Biden.
Biden’s predecessor — the first inhabitant of the White House not to own a pet since James Polk in the 1840s — had a favorite fallback insult, often saying that someone was “like a dog.” But President Trump is being replaced by someone who, well, likes dogs. A lot.
That smart, cool, neat dog, Champ, now an elder statesman at age 12, has since been joined by another German shepherd, Major — the first dog adopted from a shelter to live in the White House. And the Biden family has announced that they plan to add a cat to their menagerie soon.
The president-elect is “passionate about dogs because he loves them,” said Mark Tobin, a Delaware dog trainer who has worked with the Biden dogs. Tobin said that Biden is a hands-on dog owner.
“He’s going to do it himself,” Tobin said. “He’s going to walk the dog.”
Champ and Major are just the latest in a long line of German shepherds for the president-elect. There was the aforementioned Senator, as well as a dog named Governor. (Sorry, he has never named one of his dogs “President.”)
“I’ve always had a big dog my whole life since I was a kid, big German shepherds, and Great Danes, and Labs, and golden retrievers,” he told reporters on a 2008 campaign plane trip.
After his wife, Jill, told him they could get a dog if he and President Barack Obama won the 2008 election, they purchased a German shepherd puppy from a Chester County, Pa., breeder, sparking controversy and disappointing animal advocates who had hoped for an adoption. The Biden granddaughters chose the name Champ, which was a childhood nickname of the president-elect — his father famously used to encourage him by saying, “Champ, when you get knocked down, get up!”
Tobin prepared Champ for a life in the spotlight — training him to be able to handle the plane rides, noises and crowds that a Second Dog might encounter.
“Champ had the right personality and demeanor for the job,” Tobin said. “He was great around people, but he also was extremely attentive to the vice president.”
Ten years later — the “Adopt, don’t shop” message having sunk in — the Bidens looked to the Delaware Humane Association for their second German shepherd. The president-elect’s daughter Ashley Biden noticed on Facebook that the group had posted photos of a litter of German shepherd puppies that had been taken in, and the Bidens fostered one, later adopting Major. Tobin facilitated the introduction between the puppy and the elder dog.
“The meet and greet with Champ was funny, because you could tell Champ is like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this guy’s got way too much energy,’ ” said Tobin. But now, “They’re friends. They do everything together.”
That friendship is even the subject of a new children’s book, “Champ and Major: First Dogs,” that will be published Jan. 19.
“I sort of looked at Champ as the older and wiser, and Major as the puppy who was just excited and off on a new adventure,” said author Joy McCullough. “We see Champ showing Major the ropes on how to be a dog to their dad, which is a very important job.”
She did take some creative liberties. The book depicts the dogs celebrating a Biden victory on election night, even though it didn’t exactly work out that way in real life.
“The dogs are lucky not to understand” what’s been happening for the last two months, she said.
First Dogs aren’t just a fun piece of trivia. “I think they remind us that presidents are people who need family, loved ones and downtime,” said McCullough. “Caring for animals who rely on us completely shows a capacity for compassion, which I think is really important in a leader, especially one who has as much power as the president of the United States.”
Major, now 2, has retained that bouncy puppy energy — which recently became an issue when the president-elect suffered a hairline fracture in his foot after he slipped on a rug while playing with the dog. (Not his first dog-related injury: The AP reported in 2015 that Biden suffered a “a dark, penny-sized contusion just below his lower lip” from a tussle with Champ.)
Patrick Carroll, the DHA’s executive director, hopes that seeing a shelter dog in the White House will encourage more people to adopt their pets.
“Sometimes people think shelters only have broken animals,” Carroll said. “The cool thing is, we can say that if a dog is good enough for the White House, it’s certainly good enough for your house.”
PETA thinks so too. The animal rights organization is hosting an invite-only inauguration party — a drive-in movie at Union Market in D.C., so people can remain safely in their cars, and bring their dogs, too — to celebrate having animals in the White House again. But the invitation conspicuously mentions only Major.
“PETA’s inaugural eve party will absolutely include Champ, as it’s a celebration of all ‘first dogs’ (FIDOs) and the presidents who loved them, but we’re particularly delighted to see Major join their ranks because President-Elect Biden set an example for all Americans by adopting him from an animal shelter,” said Colleen O’Brien, the group’s vice president of communications, in an email.
As for the cat: D.C.’s Humane Rescue Alliance is hoping that the Bidens will be stopping by. In December, they named three newborn kittens Rehoboth, Lewes and Bethany, after the Delaware beaches, as an incentive. And once the First Cat arrives, all of the pets are going to have to learn the art of feline-canine bipartisanship.
“Major’s got a high drive. So we’ll see if he’s going to have the ability to not want to play with the cat all the time,” said Tobin. “It’s going to be a work in progress.”