Secret Service Had to Adjust Tactics to Avoid Bites From Biden’s Dog

The Secret Service had to “adjust our operational tactics” to protect President Biden because the first family’s dog kept biting agents, including one who required six stitches and another whose blood spilled onto the floor of the White House, according to newly released internal emails posted online.

The agency recorded at least 24 biting episodes between October 2022 and July 2023 involving Commander, a German shepherd who became the terror of the West Wing, Camp David and the president’s homes in Delaware, about half of which required medical attention, according to the documents. Commander was banished from the White House last fall to an undisclosed location.

“The recent dog bites have challenged us to adjust our operational tactics when Commander is present — please give lots of room (staying a terrain feature away if possible),” an assistant special agent in charge of the Presidential Protection Division wrote to the team. “We will continue to keep” a protected person whose code name was blacked out in the document but was clearly Mr. Biden “in our sight but must be creative to ensure our own personal safety.” The agent reported that they were seeking “a better solution soon.”

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by John Greenewald, a longtime California-based researcher who specializes in unearthing government secrets on everything from U.F.O.s to C.I.A. and military activities, and posted on his website, called The Black Vault. The Secret Service confirmed the documents were authentic.

The 24 incidents recorded in the documents go beyond the 10 reported last July. And they still only capture some of the episodes since they cover just Secret Service personnel and not others involving residential staff at the mansion or Navy personnel who serve the president’s family at Camp David.

The 273 pages of emails and documents, with names redacted, shed new light on a period that generated great stress inside the White House before Commander, then age 2, was removed from the mansion. A previous presidential dog, Major, was moved out of the White House two years earlier for similar reasons.

The cache of emails not only documented various episodes in sometimes graphic detail, but also captured the trauma and concern among Secret Service agents and officers, who shared techniques for the best ways to avoid getting hurt. Secret Service personnel were bitten on the wrist, forearm, elbow, waist, chest, thigh and shoulder. One was saved from injury by his ammunition pouch. Among the documents was a photo of a torn shirt.

“I was in shock that the incident occurred,” wrote one special agent, who was attacked while holding open the door for the president on Oct. 2, 2022, as Mr. Biden took Commander out onto the South Lawn. The dog grabbed the agent’s left arm and stood on his hind legs. “He is literally my height standing,” the agent wrote. Fortunately, a doctor found no puncture wound. “After this I was concerned about him getting out of the residence or being out without a leash for others’ safety and mine.”

Another agent was not so lucky. On June 15, 2023, Commander raced toward the agent and lunged at him, causing a “deep bite” on the left arm that was reported to have needed stitches. “East Wing Tours were stopped for approximately 20 minutes due to blood from the incident being on the floors in the area of the Booksellers,” a hall in the White House, one document reported.

A month later, another agent entering the backyard patio of the president’s home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., did not realize the dog was there and off leash. The dog bit him, “causing a severe deep open wound,” and the agent “started to lose a significant amount of blood,” a message detailed. The agent “remained calm and walked away from the area looking for help.”

The agent got six stitches in the left hand. A couple of days later, a supervisor wrote to the agent. “I’m glad it wasn’t your pitching arm!” the supervisor wrote, adding jokingly that the agent’s colleagues had “put together a small care package” for him including Advil, antibiotic cream, pepper spray, a muzzle and some dog biscuits “for safety purposes.”

The incidents took place mainly at the White House but also at Camp David, the president’s homes in Delaware and his vacation rental in Nantucket.

“The president and first lady care deeply about the safety of those who work at the White House and those who protect them every day,” said Elizabeth Alexander, the communications director for Jill Biden. “Despite additional dog training, leashing, working with veterinarians and consulting with animal behaviorists, the White House environment simply proved too much for Commander. Since the fall, he has lived with other family members.”

A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter said the president and first lady were “heartbroken” over what had happened, had apologized to those who were bitten and had even brought flowers to some of them.

“The U.S. Secret Service takes the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously, and has been navigating how to best operate in an environment that includes family pets for many presidential administrations,” said Anthony Guglielmi, the agency’s chief of communications.

He added: “While Secret Service personnel neither handle nor care for the first family’s pets, we work continuously with all applicable entities in order to minimize any adverse impacts from family pets.”

Mr. Guglielmi gave no details about how “operational tactics” had to be adjusted while Commander was at the mansion, but in an email, one agent counseled colleagues about what to do if attacked. “Standing tall and yelling his name and ‘stop’ is your best bet to not get bit,” the agent wrote after an episode at Camp David. “Once I yelled at him and faced him, he turned around and started sniffing a bush (a.k.a. respecting me as the alpha I am).”

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