Maine's Governor Baxter and Garry Owen

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 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.”


10 thoughts on “America Comes Alive – with Historic Dogs!”

  1. Oh, MY! I am subscribing to America Comes Alive! immediately. I am not a true history buff but do enjoy history well told and as factual as possible. I just finished “The Emperor of All Maladies,” a biography of cancer. It is awesome in scope and superbly accessible in reading. One thing it underscored for me were the many, many unknown researchers, nurses, doctors, scientists in the hunt to cure cancer, not unlike the many unsung heroes in animal rescue and redemption. My hand on my heart to Gov. Baxter. Thank you.

    1. I know — how cool is this profile?! I’m not a true history buff either, but love interesting little known stories like this. “The Emperor of All Maladies” sounds fascinating; I’ll check it out.

  2. I used to live in Maine, within walking distance of Mackworth Island. Gov. Baxter had a cemetery there for his dogs. There is a plaque on a rock there which says “The State of Maine, by legislative act…accepted the gift of Mackworth Island and covenanted to maintain forever this burial place of my dogs with the stone wall and boulder with the bronze marker thereon erected to their memory.” –Percival P Baxter.

    I think the walk around the island was 3 miles. I used to do it on a regular basis.

    Baxter also had some pet horses buried there, if I recall. You can see the plaque if you go to Google Earth and search for Mackworth Island, then click on the photo icons.

    Maine is a very pet friendly place, even today. I always took my Edie to the office with me, and many people did the same. The Humane Society can’t get enough pets to meet the demand, so they truck up homeless dogs from southern states.

    1. I’m very glad to hear that Governor Baxter’s legacy is still being observed in Maine. What an inspiration. I’d heard of pets being shipped from the south, but wasn’t sure where they were sent.

  3. That was a nice post by Ms. Kelly. Thanks for sharing it. It’s great to hear about how a political figure’s love for a dog informed his decisions in life.

    I’d like to think that was true for everyone. Then I could spend more time reading about politicians’ dogs instead of their politics.

    But as many probably know, Hitler deeply loved his dog so that’s not a good guide. And every time I see a picture of Mitt Romney, I think of him fastening his dog’s crate to the top of the car for a twelve hour drive (a method I presume you won’t be covering in your book on pet travel).

    1. Yes, if only Hitler had directed his energies towards animal rights…One of the things I love about Gail Collins — and there are many — is that she constantly tells the story of Mitt Romney and Seamus. He used having to hose the excrement of his terrified pet from the van’s windshield as an example of “good management.” Can you say “animal cruelty”?

  4. This is such a nice article. I’ve visited a few places here in Rhode Island, including Green Animals – the former Brayton estate that now belongs to the Preservation of Newport County, where the history of the pets there is recorded also. They even have a pet cemetary on their grounds (no, not the Stephen King variety!) Always very interesting, at least for me. I look forward to more in the series. I’m on my way to sign for the subscription now! Thanks, Edie.

    1. Yes, it’s a great series — I subscribed too and got a delightful story about “How Dalmations Became Firehouse Dogs” in my inbox this morning. What a nice way to start a day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *