Happy National Pet Day! With three dogs and a cat, I thought my house was a zoo. That is, until I started reading up on our first president. I knew George Washington was an avid animal lover but I had no idea just how many dogs he doted on over the years. There are some reports he had 50 or more during his lifetime.
According to records from Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon, our Founding Father kept just about every breed of dog recognized today by the American Kennel Club. He kept Greyhounds, Newfoundlands, Briards, and a number of other spaniels, terriers, and quite a few hound dogs. Some research even shows Washington had a Dalmatian and Poodle. But what I found even more interesting was the names he gave his beloved companions. Here is a list of just a few I stumbled on in my searches.
Washington spent time with his dogs immediately after waking up and just before going to bed. And just like many other members of the military, he often took his dogs to conduct business—both for the Continental Congress and the Continental Army. It was his compassion for canines that may have helped the colonists during the American Revolution. How you ask? It all boils down to the the Battle of Germantown. It was October 1777 and American forces were once again defeated, allowing the British to maintain control of Philadelphia. After the battle, a dog was found wandering the fields. It turned out the dog belonged to British General William Howe. Washington’s soldiers considered it a war prize and a way to taunt the opposing general. Instead, Washington took the pup, cleaned and brushed it, then returned it under a flag of truce along with a note.
“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”
Both the letter and more details of that day are well documented by the Library of Congress. Howe praised Washington’s actions and historians note that even though he went on to win several battles, he never pursued Washington with quite the same tenacity. I found the story so compelling I just knew there had to be a book about it. I was right. My copy of General Howe’s Dog: George Washington, the Battle for Germantown and the Dog Who Crossed Enemy Lines just arrived. Be sure to order using Amazon Smile and donate to Colonial Williamsburg at the same time—no extra cost to you!
Ron Carnegie has been portraying George Washington for almost a decade here in the Revolutionary City and he too is an avid animal lover—especially when it comes to horses and dogs. Here he is pictured with his rescues Nikita and Dudley!
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