Bidens’ dog, Commander, bit Secret Service personnel in at least 24 incidents, records show

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Commander BidenPresident Joe Biden’s family dog, bit US Secret Service personnel in at least 24 incidents at the White House and other locations, according to new internal USSS documents obtained by CNN.

That number does not include additional incidents CNN has previously reported involving executive residence staff and other White House workers. But the new documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal the extent to which the situation had become a serious workplace issue for the hundreds of staff supporting White House operations, and how agency personnel changed their habits to avoid being injured by the German shepherd.

“The recent dog bites have challenged us to adjust our operational tactics when Commander is present – please give lots of room,” an unnamed assistant special agent in charge of USSS’ Presidential Protective Division wrote to their team in a June 2023 email, warning that agents “must be creative to ensure our own personal safety.”

This undated photo obtained through a FOIA request shows a USSS agent’s torn shirt following a bite from US President Joe Biden’s dog, Commander. - US Secret Service
This undated photo obtained through a FOIA request shows a USSS agent’s torn shirt following a bite from US President Joe Biden’s dog, Commander. - US Secret Service

That warning came months before the dog was removed from the White House, with multiple biting incidents taking place in the interim.

CNN has reviewed more than 400 pages of documents, many of which were heavily redacted to protect USSS personnel anonymity and operational details.

In October 2022, an unnamed Secret Service technician described an incident and said they were “worried about the family pets behavior escalating and that … something worse was going to happen to others.”

The documented incidents included members of the Secret Service’s uniformed division, members of the president’s protective detail and other USSS officials. They took place inside and outside of the White House residence, but also at Biden family homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, at Camp David, and in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where the first family spends the Thanksgiving holiday.

A source close to the Biden family told CNN that the Biden family feels “awful” and has been “heartbroken” over the spate of biting incidents.

“They’ve been heartbroken over this. They’ve apologized to those who have been bitten, taken flowers to some. They feel awful. Commander was over-protective, and even though they tried and tried to work on it, they had to let him go live with other members of their family,” the source said.

The family repeatedly tried to get a handle on the situation, which began in October 2022 with incidents spanning a full year. Commander Biden joined the family as a puppy in December 2021.

“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. 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,” Elizabeth Alexander, first lady Jill Biden’s communications director, said in a statement provided to CNN.

“The incidents involving Commander were treated as workplace injuries, with events documented in accordance with Secret Service and US Department of Homeland Security guidelines,” Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesperson for USSS, told CNN in a statement Wednesday.

“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,” he said.

The documents, which were obtained independently by CNN, were first published by John Greenewald.

‘Something worse was going to happen’

Guglielmi called on his media team to begin “crafting potential public responses” for questions about the incidents starting in July 2023.

One email description of a July 29, 2023, incident – one of the more severe outline in the documents – reveals the seriousness of the problem.

An unnamed special agent from the presidential protective division’s counter surveillance unit was providing security coverage in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, the report said. As the agent walked to a backyard security post, the agent heard Commander start to bark, the report said, but did not realize Commander was “loose and off leash.”

“In the background SA [redacted] heard the voice of what believes to be FLOTUS Dr. Jill Biden [redacted] yelling [redacted quote]. Commander ran toward the direction of post [redacted] booth and bit SA [redacted in the left forearm. Causing a severe deep open wound. As result of the attack SA [redacted] started to loose (sic) a significant amount of blood from [redacted] arm,” the report said.

The agent was treated on site by the White House medical unit and received six stitches to his left forearm, the report said, as well as antibiotics for the wound.

On October 2, 2022, an agent was bitten on the forearm while holding the door open in the area between the West Wing and the residence – a documented incident that involved President Joe Biden.

“Commander and POTUS were entering the Palm Room through the West Colonnade. Commander came in first circled back and grabbed my arm left arm. He then stood up and back down. He is literally my height standing. POTUS entered shortly after since he was trailing behind him. POTUS entered the Palm Room and said [redacted],” the agent said in a description of the event, saying that they were “in shock that this incident occurred.”

This agent raised workplace safety concerns, saying they were subsequently “concerned about him getting out of the residence or being out without a leash for others safety and mine.”

There was a near incident on October 26, 2022, on White House grounds. The dog “lunged to bite but missed before First Lady regained control of the leash.”

A November 2022, injury by the dog to a uniformed division officer’s right arm and right quad required treatment at a hospital.

One officer described a biting incident on December 23, 2022, at the White House with the first family present.

“While first family was coming back from tennis pavilion, [redacted] having her hands full and no one else around I did try to open the closed door… for her; at that moment first family dog passed everyone toward the deep room door. Having doors not being fully open yet he bit me in my left forearm,” the officer said, noting that the bite “didn’t leave any marks.”

There was a similar incident on June 11, 2023, where a special agent “attempted to help open the door into the Oval Dining Room for the First Lady, at which point the family pet jumped on SA [redacted] and bit on the left chest area, resulting in a torn shirt, and two small lacerations.”

There was a January 28, 2023, biting incident with a member of Navy staff at Laurel Cabin in Camp David. Weeks later, a member of the presidential protective division sent out a request for information from “everyone that has had an incident with Commander.”

And an unnamed USSS employee filed a notice of traumatic injury and claim for continuation of pay/compensation with the US Department of Labor for an incident that occurred April 12, 2023.

Commander “jumped at me and bit me in the left arm. I sustained two (2) puncture marks and the skin was broken with blood present,” the notice said.

In May 2023, a special agent wrote that White House staff had been advised that “the pet should not be out on its own.”

CNN had previously reported that the situation had belied broader tensions between the Biden family and the US Secret Service.

Sources suggested the relationship between the first family and the US Secret Service was first strained when the family’s elder dog, Major, caused an injury to an unnamed Secret Service agent in 2021 before ultimately being sent away more permanently to Delaware. Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki only stated at the time that Major caused an injury to an unnamed individual.

The documents described that incident in more detail. The agent wrote that Major came around the corner of the diplomatic reception room at the White House and “attacked” him “unprovoked.” The personnel said in an email regarding a reimbursement for his coat that the incident “occurred through no fault of my own and I could not avoid this unusual circumstance due to the nature and requirements of my position.”

That incident caused a breach in trust, a source familiar with the dynamic said, which continued as the president’s top protectors worked to avoid a second dog.

The Bidens have long been dog owners, and much like any other family member, the topic of their dog’s behavior was a “sensitive subject” for staff to raise, a source familiar with the dynamic told CNN last year.

Commander still figured prominently in White House holiday decorations in December, months after departing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Likenesses of the dog were among festive displays in the East Colonnade and in the Red Room, and the family’s official holiday card was signed by the president, first lady, cat (Willow), and Commander.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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