The fire crackers are scary — I felt that way even before I had a dog and lived out West with fire danger — and the barbecues are guilt inducing (I’m not going to forgo large quantities of carcinogenic meat and beer; I’m just going to feel bad about them). But the 4th of July also brings out the guilt-free history geek in me. So I was very excited when I found out about a new series by historian Kate Kelly, whose America Comes Alive! site is going to the dogs in July in honor of the “Dog Days of Summer.” Her canine profiles will include presidential dogs, military dogs, Hollywood dogs, and more. I’m happy to be able to give you a preview here with the portrait of a gubernatorial pup — and the wonderful public servant who did right by him. I promise you’ll get the warm and fuzzies.
If you would like receive these short write-ups about famous (or should be famous!) dogs by email, visit AmericaComesAlive.com to sign up and learn more.
Garryowen, an Irish Setter Owned by the Governor of Maine in the 1920s
By Kate Kelly
The Governor’s Dog
Though two Irish setters lived in the White House (one briefly with the Truman family, and another later with the Nixons), the most loved Irish setter who belonged to an elected official may have been Garryowen (known as Garry II), who belonged to Percival Proctor Baxter (1876-1969), governor of Maine from 1921-25.
Percival Baxter was born into a wealthy family that had made money in the canning industry, and he devoted himself to many forward-looking causes. While governor, he appointed women to public office. He was also passionately devoted to preserving nature for the enjoyment of the people. Over time, he amassed over 200,000 acres of forest land, including the woods surrounding Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak; he deeded the land to the state in perpetuity. Baxter specified that it be maintained as a public park and left in its wild state as a “sanctuary for wild beasts and birds.” The park is named in his honor.
In 1909 Baxter was elected to the state senate, and in 1921 he was President pro-tempore when the sitting governor died. Baxter filled the remainder of the term and was then elected to one term in his own right.
Garry II belonged to Baxter at the time he became governor, and the governor and his dog were frequently seen walking near the State House. Children would wait along the route that Baxter often took, hoping to have the opportunity to pet Garry or shake his paw.
So deep was Baxter’s love for his dogs, he documented his pets in a privately published book, “My Irish Setters.” Baxter writes of Garry, age 9 at the writing: “Garry is my constant companion in the Governor’s House and in my office at the State Capitol. He goes back and forth with me between Portland and Augusta both by train and automobile, and understands the duties of the Governor’s Office as well as could be expected of any dog.”
Garry had a couch within the governor’s office that was specifically for him.
Baxter belonged to several humane societies across the country, one of which, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (an organization dedicated to ending scientific testing on live animals), called him America’s “greatest humane governor.”
When Garry Died
Garry II died while the governor was in office. Baxter was devastated and ordered the flag at the State House lowered to half staff. This angered many veterans’ groups who thought the order was disrespectful to the military. News of the flag-lowering made headlines around the world.
In 2001, workers restoring a 1924 monument came upon information that shed light on Baxter’s controversial decision. In 1924 Governor Baxter had participated in the dedication ceremony following the completion of a memorial honoring the Maine sailors and soldiers who fought in World War I. Baxter made his remarks and then he was to place into the floor of the memorial a metal box with a list of the men who died in the war, a brief history of the memorial’s development, and a photograph of the sculptor.
During the restoration, the workers uncovered the box, and when it was given to state officials, they were surprised to find the documents they expected but also a sealed envelope that specified that is should be opened only after Baxter’s death. In the eight-page missive, Baxter railed against war and explained why he never married (his beloved turned him down), and he wrote about the “shocking neglect and cruelty” shown toward animals in Maine, and spoke of his own desire “to be kind to every living creature.”
He also commented on his decision to lower the flag at the State House after his dog died. “Good old Garry II was the first dog in history to be thus honored,” Baxter writes. “His spirit lives on and through him. Dumb animals the world over will be treated more kindly and mercifully.”