Of the more than 500 million Americans who've ever lived, fewer than four dozen have ascended to the presidency.
It's hard to relate to a group that exclusive. But pets that dig up the Rose Garden, chew tassled loafers in the West Wing, and have accidents under the Resolute Desk are the great equalizer: There are more Americans who live with animal friends — around 66%, studies show — than those who don't.
"Pets humanize presidential figures who seem remote," said Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence at the Presidential Pet Museum, formerly in Williamsburg, Va., now awaiting a new home. "Seeing the most powerful person in the free world romping on the floor with a dog looks so much more like you or I — a very different image than a person in a suit behind a podium."
When he moves into the White House in January, the already avuncular President-elect Joe Biden will morph into Romper-in-Chief, cavorting with two German shepherds, 12-year-old Champ and nearly 3-year-old Major, who will become the first shelter animal to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Biden and his grandchildren picked out Major at the no-kill Delaware Humane Association in Wilmington in 2018.
For the last four years, the White House has been a kibble-free zone. Although President Donald Trump has been accused of emitting racist-rousing dog whistles, he hasn't owned an actual dog.
"Donald was not a dog fan," wrote the outgoing president's first wife, Ivana, in her memoir, "Raising Trump." "And Chappy (her poodle) had an equal dislike of Donald."
Trump is believed to be the only president other than James Polk (in office from 1845 to 1849) not to have a pet, Hager said, adding, "Even the impeached, sad, racist, drunk Andrew Johnson fed flour to mice friends he kept."
In 2017, Trump reportedly said he was "embarrassed" by the cats, snake, and rabbit (Marlon Bundo, subject of two children's books) living with Vice President Mike Pence and his family. The Atlantic reported that the menagerie inspired Trump to label the Pences "low-class" and "yokels."
"Animals are so against the Trump Fifth Avenue brand," said Hager, who credits Trump for being "self-aware enough" to realize it's best he avoid bonding with all creatures, great and small. In February 2019, the famously germaphobic president said his getting a pet "feels a little phony."
For Biden, a longtime pet lover, it seems natural.