When President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, PhD, entered the White House, they reinstated a former presidential tradition: first pets. The Bidens had their German Shepherd Champ throughout his time as vice president and they welcomed another dog of the same breed, Major, into their lives in 2018. In January, the two dogs got to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. Sadly, just five months into his stint as first dog, Champ died at the age of 13 on Saturday, June 19. The president and first lady released a joint statement, announcing that Champ passed away “peacefully at home” of natural causes. In their heartfelt post, they shared some sentiments any pet owner can relate to. Read on to find out the sweet way Biden has made sure first dog Champ will live on and to hear about his journey to the White House.
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In an Instagram posted to the POTUS account, the Bidens announced Champ’s passing with a sentimental message:
Our hearts are heavy today as we let you all know that our beloved German Shepherd, Champ, passed away peacefully at home. He was our constant, cherished companion during the last 13 years and was adored by the entire Biden family. Even as Champ’s strength waned in his last months, when we came into a room, he would immediately pull himself up, his tail always wagging, and nuzzle us for an ear scratch or a belly rub. Wherever we were, he wanted to be, and everything was instantly better when he was next to us. He loved nothing more than curling up at our feet in front of a fire at the end of the day, joining us as a comforting presence in meetings, or sunning himself in the White House garden. In his younger days, he was happiest chasing golf balls on the front lawn of the Naval Observatory or racing to catch our grandchildren as they ran around our backyard in Delaware. In our most joyful moments and in our most grief-stricken days, he was there with us, sensitive to our every unspoken feeling and emotion. We love our sweet, good boy and will miss him always.
Biden was so enamored by his first pup that, during his time as vice president, he would hand out “Champ” plushies to comfort children in need during tough times. (There is a version for sale on the White House website.)
Champ was known for his sweet and gentle demeanor by the White House press corps that often covered his comings and goings. He was so beloved that there was even a children’s book made in his and Major’s honor.
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The Bidens got Champ from a breeder in Pennsylvania when he was just a puppy. They reportedly named him Champ in honor of the president’s father, who would tell him “Get up champ,” when he faced challenges in life, according to The New York Times. Biden made it one of his campaign pledges to put a pet back in the White House. One ad, seen here, promoted Champ & Major for DOTUS (Dogs of the U.S.).
In addition to Champ, the Bidens adopted Major from the Delaware Humane Association (DHA) in 2018. First Daughter Ashley Biden saw photos of Major and his five littermates on the DHA Facebook page and sent them to her parents, who were looking for a younger companion for Champ as he was getting up there in age, NPR reported. Three years later, Major became the first rescue dog to take up residency in the White House, and Champ was there to show him the ropes.
Champ and Major made themselves at home at the White House after its four-year absence of pets. During an interview with People in February, the president said there’s only one rule for the first dogs in the White House—they’re not allowed on the furniture, including beds and couches. In another Feb. interview for The Kelly Clarkson Show, the first lady admitted that although dependable Champ followed the rules, she did catch Major on the couch.
The couple’s grandchildren had a special relationship with the first pups and when they visited all the rules were off the table. “[Major] jumps up on the bed with them,” the president told People.
Then in March, Champ and Major were dispatched to Biden’s Delaware residence after a reported “biting incident” between Major and a member of the White House security detail. After some “remedial” training, both dogs returned to their White House duties within the month.
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The Bidens said that Champ loved sunning himself in the White House garden, but he also enjoyed his eight years at the Vice Presidential estate in D.C. In his younger days, as the Bidens said in their statement, Champ was “happiest chasing golf balls on the front lawn of the Naval Observatory.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama spent a lot of time with Champ in his early days. She responded to the post on Dr. Biden’s Instagram about Champ’s passing. “Champ was such a good boy, and we know how much he meant to your family over the years. Barack and I are sending all our love to you, @POTUS, and the entire Biden family,” she wrote in the comments.
In May, the Obamas said goodbye to their first dog Bo, who they got when former President Barack Obama entered the White House. At the time, Dr. Biden said her heart was with the Obama family. “It’s so heartbreaking to say goodbye to a pet,” she wrote on Instagram just a month before she’d have to do the same.
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