As we celebrate the birthday of our nation’s first president, George Washington, let us reflect not only on his achievements as Commanding General of the Continental Army and U.S. president, but his life-long association with dogs. That’s right. You mean, you didn’t know?
Well, sit back and hear the tale! It starts with Washington, the avid hunter. You see, fox hunting was one of Washington’s great passions. (NOTE: Before you consider taking your furry friend fox hunting with you, please consult your Boca Raton pet care specialist. She will surely have some helpful advice on the subject!) Anyway, during his years in Virginia, Washington would ride out with his dogs to hunt foxes every week and sometimes two or three times a week.
A New Nation, A New Breed of Dog
As an educated farmer, Washington was well versed in animal husbandry. With the unrivaled passion he put into everything, he began to build a pack of hunting hounds. In case you haven’t read them, Washington’s diaries are filled with his accounts of his dog breeding and eventually, he created a unique breed of foxhound that he called the “Virginia Hound.” Believe it or not, Washington’s diary even documents the names he gave to his beloved hounds; there was “Sweet Lips”, “Venus”, and “Truelove”. These shared a kennel with “Taster”, “Tippler” and “Drunkard”, no doubt named after some of Washington’s more riotous acquaintances.
Washington meets Howe’s Terrier in Battle
Washington’s affection for dogs is vividly illustrated in an incident that occurred during the Revolutionary War. On or around October 6, 1777, during the Battle of Germantown, when American forces were trying to contain British General William Howe’s troops near Pennibecker’s Mill, a small terrier was seen wandering between the American and British lines. It turns out that the terrier belonged to General Howe himself, and had somehow become lost on the battlefield. When Washington’s officers identified the dog’s owner by his collar, they proposed to Washington that he keep the terrier as a “trophy.” Instead, Washington fed and brushed the little fellow, ordered a cease-fire, and returned the dog to the British commander. Did he love dogs or what?
The Birth of a New Breed. The American Foxhound.
At the close of the war, Washington retired to Mount Vernon to manage his affairs, his home, his career in Virginia politics, and “his dream of creating a superior hunting dog, one that had speed, scent, and brains.” He had decided that his Virginia Hounds lacked the stamina needed or a sustained hunt. During the war, Washington had developed a personal relationship with the Marquis de La Fayette, the French general. He remembered that, during their many conversations, La Fayette had praised the French King’s staghounds for their stamina and focus when on the trail of a quarry. Washington, seeing an opportunity, wrote to La Fayette and asked him if he would provide Washington with a few of these dogs as breeding stock. La Fayette did so gladly.
Washington quickly set about breeding the larger French staghounds with his smaller Virginia Hounds, carefully doing so — even though he did not have the advice of his Boca Raton veterinarian — with the hunting dog qualities he sought in this new breed. His experiments with dog breeding would be short-lived, however, brought to an end by political pressures, i.e., the responsibilities of the presidency. There were not in vain, though. For it is George Washington – U.S. president, commanding officer, Virginia farmer, and dog lover – who brought to the world a new breed of dog: the American Foxhound.
Thank you, George. And happy birthday!