DC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is
© Getty Images/Madeline Monroe

Major and Champ Biden are proving everything in Washington is political, even presidential pets.

From starring roles on the official White House Easter eggs to being featured in a fundraising pitch from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE's pair of German shepherds have amassed quite a following — and some rolled-up newspaper headlines over misbehavior — since charging into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. earlier this year.

Countless products inspired by the furry first family members — including $20 "Shepherds of Change" mugs, a "From Wags to Riches" sticker and $15 crew socks with the stitched images of Biden and one of his dogs — are popping up for sale on sites such as Etsy. An account dedicated to all things Champ and Major, @TheFirstDogs, has gained more than 117,000 followers on Twitter.

ADVERTISEMENT

Andrew Hager, the historian-in-residence of the Presidential Pet Museum, an online hub searching for a permanent space, says after former President Trump's roller coaster — and pet-less — presidency, many Americans are ready to trade the dog-eat-dog world of partisan mudslinging for a tail-wagging duo. The dogs also offer a way for Biden to differentiate himself from his predecessor.

"Biden, in so many ways, he’s set himself up to be a return to normalcy, or whatever that means in Washington. And I think the dogs are kind of another example of that," Hager says.

But Biden's canines aren't without their own doggie drama. Major's muzzle has been splashed across countless news stories after multiple high-profile biting incidents.

Last month, the White House told CNN that Major "nipped someone on a walk" while on the South Lawn. That incident came just weeks after another biting report involving the dog, in which a White House staff member suffered minor injuries.

A spokesman for first lady Jill BidenJill BidenWashington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Here's why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not Jill Biden visits Smithsonian as DC museums reopen MORE said this week that Major — believed to be the first shelter rescue dog to live at the executive residence — would receive additional "private training" away from the White House.

The president has defended his pooch, calling him a "sweet" animal that's having to adjust to life in Washington alongside unfamiliar Secret Service details.

But the nips don't seem to have taken a bite out of the dogs' popularity. Last week, the DNC blasted out a fundraising call to supporters offering them a "limited-edition White House painting featuring First Dogs Champ and Major" with donations of at least $7.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Joe Biden and [Vice President] Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHere's why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border MORE are counting on us to build the strong, unified party it’ll take to pass their bold agenda and build our country back better," read the pitch above an image of the painting of the two on the White House lawn.

In his first month on the job, Biden tweeted a smiling photo alongside his dogs in the White House, declaring, "Not many people have Oval Office walk-in privileges," but "these two are on the list."

Former White House press secretary Dana Perino knows a thing or two about balancing politics and pets. The co-anchor of Fox News's "America's Newsroom" and co-host of "The Five" penned the 2016 book, "Let Me Tell You about Jasper...How My Best Friend Became America's Dog." She also was something of a first dog trailblazer, as chief spokesperson for then-President George W. Bush, whose canine companion practiced some dog diplomacy with a video series called "Barney Cam."

"After 9/11, the White House was shut down for tours for quite a long time. And Mrs. Bush felt like it was important for the American people to experience the Christmas decorations at the White House in some way," Perino recalls in an interview with ITK. That's when a friend of Perino's came up with the idea for Barney Cam — affixing a GoPro-like camera to the collar of the Bushes' Scottish terrier as he strutted his stuff around the East Wing.

Perino — who was marking her beloved Hungarian Vizsla's 9th birthday with on-air tributes and a beach weekend when ITK spoke with her — says there's a simple reason why a presidential administration would want to put some playful pups in the spotlight.

"I think it’s so relatable across the country. For me, for example with Jasper, he’s a great uniter," she says.

More than half of American households, nearly 68 million of them, have pets, according to data published last year in Packaged Facts's market research report.

"I think for a president and a first lady it helps you relate to the American people. ... You all know what it's like to love your dog," says Perino.

"For most of us, it’s hard to find a perfect politician," Hager says. "Usually they have some personality trait you don’t like or whatever. And then they bring out their dog, and all of that kind of goes away. In such a polarized country, we’re drawn to things that bring us together."

But what about Major's highly publicized biting snafus?

Hager points out that Biden's dog is hardly the first White House pet — indeed not even the first of his breed and name — to deal with some press coverage that's nothing to bark about.

"Franklin Roosevelt had a German shepherd named Major who used to chase the maids around the White House and who also tore the pants of the British prime minister, the first time Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald came to visit Roosevelt in 1933," Hager says.

"Fortunately Biden’s Major hasn’t done anything at that level yet," Hager adds, though he offered a warning should the behavior continue.

"I have started to see some comments on the Facebook posts, you know, like, 'Well, if Biden can't even control his dogs, how can he run a country?' So he could end up with that kind of pushback if things keep going awry," he says.

Perino still remembers Barney making "international news" and landing in the media doghouse in 2008 after nipping at a reporter — a moment that was captured on video. More than a decade later, the Fox News personality still appears to be on Team Barney.

"The reporter that got nipped by Barney had been bothering Barney and putting his fingers right in his face," she says.

Although she allows that Barney, who crossed the rainbow bridge in 2013, was "ornery," Perino says, "I can't imagine ever petting a president's dog without asking."

When it comes to Major, Perino says, "I think most people are empathetic enough to realize that this young dog is out of sorts and probably thinks Delaware is a lot better than living in the White House. He doesn’t know it’s the White House, he’s just like, 'What is this place? Who are all these people?'"

ADVERTISEMENT

Without small children to focus on — a la a young John F. Kennedy, Jr. crawling in and out of the Resolute Desk during his father's administration — highlighting lovable animals might be the Bidens' best bet for winning a bit of bi-pawtisan support.

"It's not as cute to take a picture of Hunter Biden as it is to take a picture of Champ and Major," cracks Hager.

The former middle school teacher predicts that if the Bidens are successful in getting Major settled in and acclimated to life in the nation's capital, the White House will continue to put him and Champ up front.

"It’s good politics, it’s good PR," Hager said. "And they seem like people who obviously love these dogs."