President Lincoln and the Legacy of Fido

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Today, we're celebrating Abraham Lincoln's birthday. You may not think President Lincoln has much to do with pets, but not only was Lincoln an animal lover, he's also the man who gave us the dog name "Fido."



Have you ever wondered how Fido became a catch-all name to represent dogs in general? There aren't a lot of actual Fidos. It's not as popular a name for dogs as, say, Duke or Bear. Plus, it's Latin for "faithful." Who speaks Latin?

Around 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln knew Latin. And he named his favorite dog Fido.

In fact, Lincoln had several cats and dogs. According to an article from Psychology Today magazine, he found therapeutic value in animals. His law partner, William Herndon, described Lincoln's relationship with his pets: "If exhausted from severe and long-continued thought, he had to touch the earth again to renew his strength. When this weariness set in he would stop thought, and get down with a little dog or kitten to recover."

Of Lincoln's pets, Fido was top dog. He was the one who followed yet-to-become-president Lincoln around Springfield, Ill., on errands, delighting and being friendly to everyone in town. He was the one Lincoln had a soft spot for, whom he indulged every step of the way.

By all accounts, Lincoln was not a very disciplinary dog owner. He let Fido have his way, feeding him table scraps, letting him jump on the furniture, and letting him track dirt and mud around the house. It drove Mary Todd Lincoln bananas. When her husband was elected president of the United States, she saw her chance to be rid of Fido. After all, they couldn't have the undisciplined dog ruining the furniture in the White House.

Lincoln left Fido behind with a trusted family to care for the dog while he was in Washington. He gave detailed, written instructions for all the ways in which Fido was to be indulged. Before he left, he had photographs of Fido made, which were still very rare at the time. He even gave Fido's foster family the dog's favorite piece of furniture.

But Fido's legacy wasn't fully cemented until the media found out about him. Even 150 years ago, as today, the President of the United States was a major celebrity, and people were interested in his personal life, including his dog. Newspapers published articles about Fido and his photographs, too. As a result, "Fido" quickly became the most popular dog name in the country. It was so popular that even today, though its popularity has waned, the name still serves as a stand-in for any dog's name - the canine equivalent of "John Doe."

Sadly, as we know, Lincoln's death meant he never made it home to Illinois and his beloved Fido. But together, Lincoln and his furry friend left behind a legacy for dog lovers everywhere, with Fido standing as one of the most important and highest-profile dogs in America's history.

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