2009-02-11 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

"I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it." Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, considered by many our greatest President, was born 200 years ago tomorrow. Volumes have been written about our 16th President's integrity, work ethic, humor and honesty, while only a few stories exist about his compassion toward animals.

An interesting piece by JFK speech writer, Ted Sorensen in the Oct. '08 Smithsonian analyzing the genius inherent in Lincoln's own writings, explains that the President knew how to use print to reach the masses. Lincoln is not remembered as an outstanding orator. Microphones, broadcasts and the Internet weren't around to amplify his average voice. In fact "four score and 7 years ago" may have been lost on the Gettysburg crowd. After the immortal speech one newspaper account didn't give Lincoln top billing but reported: "And the President also spoke."

The following animal anecdote is an example of President Lincoln's tenderness. It's an excerpt from the famous Carl Sandburg biography, and comes from the Abraham Lincoln Research Site:

"….near the end of the Civil War, Abraham and his family had been invited to visit General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters in City Point, Virginia. The trip took place in late March 1865 about three weeks During his visit to City Point, the President happened to be in the telegraph hut on the day that Grant's army began the final advance of the Civil War.

In the hut Lincoln came upon three kittens. They appeared to be lost and were wandering around and meowing. Abraham picked up one of the kittens and asked, "Where is your mother?" A person standing nearby said, "The mother is dead." The President continued to pet the little kitten and said, "Then she can't grieve as many a poor mother is grieving for a son lost in battle."

Abraham picked up the other two kittens and now had all three in his lap. He stroked their fur and quietly told them, "Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can't understand this terrible strife that is going on." The Chief Executive continued, "Poor little creatures, don't cry; you'll be taken good care of."

He looked toward Colonel Bowers of Grant's staff and said, "Colonel, I hope you will see that these poor little motherless waifs are given plenty of milk and treated kindly." Bowers promised that he would tell the cook to take good care of them. Colonel Horace Porter watched the President and recalled, "He would wipe their eyes tenderly with his handkerchief, stroke their smooth coats, and listen to them purring their gratitude to him."

"Quite a sight it was, thought Porter, "at an army headquarters, on the eve of a great military crisis in the nation's history, to see the hand which had affixed the signature to the Emancipation Proclamation and had signed the commissions…from the generalin chief to the lowest lieutenant, tenderly caressing three stray kittens."

A few years before the kitten incident, when Lincoln was first elected, the family dog never made it to the White House because the President put his buddy's best interests first. Yet there would be no happily ever after.

Born circa 1855, "Fido", a yellow Retriever/Shepherd type lived with the Lincolns in Springfield, Illinois for 5 years. He was an inside dog who had claimed their horsehair sofa as his own. Fido was known to follow Abe around town, carry his newspaper and wait patiently outside the barbershop.

Since Fido was terrified of the cannons and church bells announcing Lincoln's nomination and also fearful of riding on trains, Lincoln realized that Fido might not survive the trip or living in Washington D.C. So with great sorrow, the Lincolns gave Fido to neighbors, the Roll family, but only after they agreed to a list of stipulations.

Lincoln's rules were that Fido: would not be scolded for coming in the house with muddy feet; would not be tied in the backyard; would be allowed in whenever he scratched the door; and would be permitted in the dining room during meals. The Lincolns gave the Rolls the favorite horsehair sofa, and Lincoln's sons, Tad and Willie, took Fido to a photographer. The picture seen here is actually the first photo of a Presidential dog.

Reassuring news came 3 years later when Lincoln received a letter from his former barber that said Fido was

alive and kicking" and spending most of his time with the Roll boys, same age as the Lincoln brothers. Sadly, in 1865 when the funeral train carried Lincoln back to Springfield, John Roll brought Fido to his original home to meet the mourners. Then, less than a year after Lincoln's assassination, Fido was stabbed to death by a drunken man, enraged because the friendly dog greeted him with dirty paws. The dog's tragic demise parallels his master's.

Ironically, Charles Darwin was also born 200 years ago tomorrow on the other side of the Atlantic. As we all know, Darwin's "evolving" impact on the animal kingdom is a bit different.

For Adoption at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677- 5784) Miller Pl. Syosset: "Frosty"#0059 is a pretty white Husky who would do best with someone experienced with "sensitive" dogs. She seems to be afraid of cats and certain new situations but responds well to food, so she might be a good candidate for clicker training. Meanwhile "Squeaker" #0049 is a 1 yr. old Siamese mix, gorgeous and friendly, but she would prefer to be an only cat. More: "TJ" #0057 - young male Lhasa; "Bentley" #1013-Shiba mix; "Oreo"- tuxedo cat.

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