Is Joe Biden’s dog Commander the only troublemaker presidential pet? | Joe Biden News

United States President Joe Biden’s family dog Commander has bitten US Secret Service personnel at least 24 times, according to the agency’s records. This is the latest report of Commander challenging senior agents.

Yet, he is far from the first or only presidential pet to have stirred debate in the US and around the world.

Al Jazeera takes a look at Commander Biden and other presidential pets that have sparked controversies or gained huge popularity.

The commander-in-chief and Commander

The Biden’s family pet Commander left the White House last year, one week after a Secret Service agent required medical treatment for a severe bite.

Commander, a German Shepherd, had at least 24 biting episodes between October 2022 and July 2023 according to released internal emails posted online (PDF).

“The recent dog bites have challenged us to adjust our operational tactics when Commander is present – please give lots of room,” a special agent said to his team, adding that they “must be creative to ensure our own personal safety.”

The Secret Service confirmed the authenticity of the documents.

The Secret Service has previously acknowledged that 11 of its agents had been bitten by the dog.

The emails not only documented the incidents but also reflected the concern among officers. According to the emails, members of the Secret Service were bitten on the wrist, forearm, elbow, waist, chest, thigh and shoulder.

Commander Biden joined the family in December 2021 as a puppy.

The German Shepherd is the second of Biden’s dogs at the White House to show aggressive behaviour. Another Biden German Shepherd, Major, was eventually relocated to live with friends in Delaware. Commander is also no longer at the White House.

US President Joe Biden’s dog Commander looks down after Biden arrived back at the White House in 2023 [File: Ken Cedeno/Reuters]

Finland’s Lennu was a scene-stealer

Finland’s late first dog Lennu, a Boston terrier was a celebrity in Finland, and beyond.

He was often included in official appearances by President Saulo Niinisto, who will soon be leaving office. According to a report by the New York Times, a portrait of a grinning Lennu was shared on Twitter more than 50,000 times and liked almost 150,000 times after it was posted by a reporter.

In the US, Lennu was featured in the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In Finland, the dog also had a pastry named after him.

The Boston terrier was a scene-stealer — often finding the camera to look at even when practised politicians like Niinisto were staring elsewhere. Lennu died in May 2021 due to a pituitary gland tumour.


Putin’s dog-plomacy

In Germany, Russia’s Vladimir Putin brought his Labrador to meet former Chancellor Angela Merkel during a news conference in 2007.

Merkel, who reportedly has been afraid of dogs since one attacked her in 1995, was photographed looking uncomfortable when Koni showed up at the meeting.

“I wanted to do something nice for her,” Putin said, while he seemed to smile in the photos.  “When I found out that she doesn’t like dogs, of course, I apologised.”

According to reports, she later told journalists, “I understand why he has to do this – to prove he’s a man … He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”

But while Merkel might not like dogs, Putin loves them. So much so, that other world leaders have often gifted him dogs. Amid tensions with Russia in 2017, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov handed Putin an Alabai dog, a rare breed found mostly in Central Asia. Bulgaria and Japan have each gifted Putin dogs, too.

Koni, the dog that apparently spooked Merkel, was a gift to Putin from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen as Putin's dog Cony walks past
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen as Putin’s dog Cony walks past [File: Mikhail Metzel/AP]

FDR, Fala and ‘fake news’

Long before Donald Trump, US presidents have been accusing their opponents of “fake news”.

In 1944, then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s opponents claimed that he had left his Scottish terrier, Fala, behind after a visit to Alaska. They said he had to turn back to recover the dog, costing the exchequer several million dollars.

There is no evidence that this happened, and Roosevelt claimed it did not. But he also used it to garner sympathy for himself – and for Fala – in a nationally broadcast speech.

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala,” he said.

“Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks – but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him … his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since,” he added.

A statue of Fala beside FDR is featured in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington.

Only hitch in the third Roosevelt inauguration ceremonies schedule today was caused by "Falla"
The only hitch in the third Roosevelt inauguration ceremony’s schedule was caused by Fala the Scottie who had been the president’s constant companion for several weeks. When the president was leaving the White House for the Capitol to take the Oath of Office, Falla invited himself into the car [File: Getty Images]

A Cold War puppy spy?

During the Cold War, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gifted US President John Kennedy a dog called Pushinka, whose mother was one of the first dogs to fly into space and return alive

When Pushinka (“fluffy” in Russian) arrived in Washington, many suspected that she was a spy and could be hiding listening devices.

“After a whole bunch of tests for bombs and germs and other listening devices … [Pushinka] went on to fall in love with President Kennedy’s beloved terrier, Charlie,” Jennifer Pickens, a White House historian said according to a report by NPR.

Pushinka gave birth to four puppies affectionately referred to by Kennedy as pupniks.

The White House received about 5,000 requests asking if they could have the puppies.

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