Oct 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden dogs bit White House residence staff, too

Commander, one of the Bidens' German shepherd, is shown being walked.

Commander, one of the Bidens' dogs, is walked by a White House staff member last year. Photo: Shawn Thew, EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden family's German shepherd dogs have repeatedly bitten or nipped members of the White House residence staff in addition to Secret Service agents, according to people familiar with the matter.

  • Biden's dog Major — who eventually was banished to the family's home in Delaware — was so aggressive that residence officials warned the first lady's office the Biden's could face a lawsuit for injuries unless there were changes.

Why it matters: The dogs' attacks on Secret Service agents have been well documented, but the extent of the dogs' aggressiveness toward the White House residence staff has not been reported previously.

Zoom in: Many members of the residence staff — the several dozen people who maintain the White House as housekeepers, curators, chefs, butlers, carpenters, and more — have been fearful of Major and Commander, the younger dog who remained at the residence until recently.

  • Besides interacting with the dogs inside the White House, the residence staff members often are tasked with walking the dogs and taking them outside.
  • Some residence officials have been treated by the White House medical unit after scrapes with the dogs, according to a person with knowledge of the incidents.
  • Before leaving the White House for good in December 2021, Major was known to sometimes jump on and scratch some antique doors, the source said.
  • Commander is no longer on the White House campus either, CNN first reported.

Driving the news: On Wednesday, The Daily Mail published a photo from last month of Commander nipping at Dale Haney, the White House grounds superintendent who has been walking presidential dogs since Richard Nixon's Irish setter, King Timahoe.

  • "We spoke to Dale about the picture, and he said that Commander was being playful, and there was no bite, no pressure of teeth on his skin, no mark — just some dog slobber," the first lady's communications director, Elizabeth Alexander, told Axios.
  • On Monday, Sept. 25, Commander bit a Secret Service agent, the 11th known biting incident of a member of the agency that protects the first family.
  • In October 2022, Commander "came charging" at a Secret Service officer and First Lady Jill Biden "couldn't regain control of Commander and he continued to circle me," the officer wrote, according to emails later published by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
  • Another officer went to the hospital in November 2022 when Commander bit their upper right arm and thigh, according to the internal correspondence.

What they're saying: A former White House official who regularly interacted with both Commander and Major told Axios: "The first family and their inner circle refuse to engage in any problem-solving discussions to protect the agents and [Executive Residence] staff."

  • "The ongoing discipline issue of the Biden dogs is in no way a Secret Service problem. The agency is just trying to protect their own agents from these animals who do have violent behaviors."

A White House official pushed back on that assertion.

  • "The White House is chaotic and really stressful for pets — everyone knows this and have been trying to work through how to make things better and safer for everyone. To say that they and their 'inner circle' aren't working on this or are refusing to engage is just not true," the official said.
  • "They've been working diligently with Secret Service, with trainers, with veterinarians, with the residence staff and others on this — they have been taking this very seriously, and for months," the official added.
  • Alexander told Axios: "The president and first lady care deeply about the safety of those who work at the White House and those who protect them every day."

Between the lines: Joe Biden cherishes his dogs and has bristled at media reports suggesting they're violent.

  • After Major bit a Secret Service agent in early 2021, Biden told ABC, "He's a sweet dog — 85% of the people there love him. ...All he does is lick them and wag his tail."

Go deeper: Biden's dog Commander keeps biting people

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