America Comes Alive featured a George Washington dog story in early July, but I now have another one.
In June my hunt for information on Washington’s dogs arose from a conversation with a new neighbor and friend. Kathy is the owner of a beautiful standard poodle, and when she heard that I was writing about American dogs during the “Dog Days of Summer,” she mentioned: “A friend told me that George Washington had a poodle named Pilot.”
With that, I was off to research Washington’s dogs. Of course, I looked for leads on the Internet and found a few, but nothing on Pilot or any sort of poodle at Mount Vernon. Next, I turned to Ron Chernow’s exhaustive biography on Washington to look for more information but came up with no additional leads. Chernow includes some mention of Washington’s love of hunting and the dogs he used for it, but there was no mention of a Pilot or a poodle.
I did find quite a wonderful story about Washington returning General Howe’s dog, after he had been found by soldiers on the battlefield: “A Dog on the Battlefield and the Character of George Washington.”
I kept listening
As any writer/researcher knows, once you have a question in your head, you keep looking for answers. Fate brought me back to poodles when I was researching Dogs for Defense (the war dog program started in 1942), because this canine defense program was started by a woman who bred poodles. This brought me in contact with Emily Cain, a dedicated researcher and writer, who runs the Poodle History Project, that has truly exhaustive information on poodles.
After connecting with her about information about Dogs for Defense, I asked by e-mail: “Did George Washington have a poodle?” Emily wrote back with a link to the page on her site dedicated to Companions to Genius. George Washington is one among many people mentioned, and there are direct quotes from his diaries about Pilot, his “water dog” (another name for poodle).
So Washington DID have a poodle. Pilot seemed to be present for many duck hunts, and Pilot must have left a lot of offspring, as the quotes on the website from Washington’s diary indicate that Pilot was a very busy fellow.
I have ordered a reprint of the appropriate volume of the diaries, and I will report back if there is more on this subject to know.