As the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show steals headlines in a slow sports month and George Washington's birthday approaches it rmeinds me that the first President was not only the Father of Our Country but the Father of the American Foxhound.
Washington, an avid foxhunter, sought to breed a new type of dog to course the terrain around his Virginia estate at Mount Vernon. He crossed French hounds from his friend the Marquis de Lafayette with his own smaller black-and-tan English hounds. Washington listed 30 new "American" foxhounds by name in his journal and hounds currently registered with the American Kennel Club are all descended from those originals. Either for whimsy or because a good part of his personal fortune derived from the sale of corn mash, the General often favored silly names for his beloved dogs: Drunkard, Tipler, Tipsy.
Today dogs are still welcome at Mount Vernon - the gate attendants provide a bowl of water for canine visitors. Mount Vernon is not actually a state or national park. The idea of maintaining an ex-President's old house, even George Washington's, was unheard of as Mount Vernon sat rotting a half-century after Washington had died. The estate was saved in 1853 by Ann Pamela Cunningham who spearheaded one of the oldest national historic preservation organizations in the country. Today the Mount Vernon Ladies Association oversees the most visited private estate in America.
George Washington wrote about his plantation on the Potomac River, "No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this." He controlled 8,000 acres here and today your dog can trot across much of the 500 acres that have been preserved. On the grounds are more than 20 outbuildings and 50 acres of gardens for your dog to explore. She may even meet some grazing livestock.
The Forest Trail is a short interpretive walk through a wooded area over a ravine and past an old cobble quarry that was used to create roadways, walkways and the main entrance. This little hike features one steep climb and a wide, groomed path for your dog.
One last story about George Washington and dogs. Two days after the Battle of Germantown outside of Philadelphia on October 6, 1777 a dog was found wandering in the American Camp. Inspecting the dog's collar it was apparent the dog, whose name and breed is lost to history, belonged to British commander General William Howe, who remained at Germantown. Even with the loss of the Colonial capital of Philadelphia hanging over his head, General George Washington steadfastly adhered to the code of gentlemanly behavior in wartime by returning the dog with a handwritten note: "General Washington's compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe." Now that's a rescue dog.
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