There’s a high probability that you’ve stumbled upon this blog post while trying to recon with a lot of changes to your daily routine. For many of us in the public history sector, a big change has been transitioning out of the office and into teleworking. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been trying to transpose your office setup and routine as much as possible somewhere in your home. For me, that means taking over the dining room table with a laptop, external monitor, calendars, to-do lists, Post-Its, and books, books, books. One thing that doesn’t translate so well to teleworking, though—our pets.
If there’s anything humorous to be gleaned from our great experiment in teleworking, it’s that for many of us, working from home and pets don’t mix well. The internet is (thankfully, I think) full of hilarious photos of our innocent pets loving the fact that we’re home, and eager to get into our new daily routines. From interrupting conference calls and showing up in our Zoom meetings, to walking all over our laptops and sending nonsensical emails, we love our pets but…maybe we don’t need to take them to work with us when this is all over.
Someone who might disagree, however, is revolutionary General Charles Lee. I think it’s safe to say that he’s one of the most controversial and polarizing figures of the American Revolution—you either love him for his enthusiasm or hate him for trying to finagle his way into the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Regardless of how scholars today nestle him into the annals of Revolutionary War history, Lee’s contemporaries were also a bit polarized about him and, largely, because of his deep (some say eccentric) attachment to his dogs.
In his excellent biography of Lee, Phillip Papas notes “the relationship between Lee and his dogs was more than a personal idiosyncrasy that charmed some people and shocked and made others feel uneasy.” Lee was famous—then and now—for having his dogs with him everywhere. Military campaigns. The breakfast table. Anywhere General Charles Lee went, his dogs where sure to follow. While attending a dinner hosted by Thomas Mifflin, Lee nonchalantly brought his dogs along and they, apparently, sat down to dinner with the rest of the guests. Maybe we can give Charles a pass on that, if we’re accustomed in our own homes to let pets sit at our feet at the dinner table, but I’m not so sure that’s how the scene played out, given Lee’s penchant for ordering his dogs onto chairs to interact with guests.
Maybe I don’t agree with Lee’s table etiquette or his incessant insistence that to love him meant also loving his dogs, but we do agree on one thing—our furry companions give us comfort in troubling and uncertain times. When Lee found himself a British prisoner of war in December 1776, he wrote to Washington on February 9, “I am (likewise) extremely desirous that my Dogs should be brought as I never stood in greater need of their Company than at present.”
Abigail Adams received some unwanted attention from Lee’s favorite companion, a Pomeranian named Spado. In a letter she later wrote to her husband, Abigail relayed that “the general was so determined that I should not only be acquainted with him, but with his companions too, and therefore placed a chair before me into which he ordered Mr. Sparder [Spado] to mount and present his paw to me for a better acquaintance.” One can only imagine the formidable Abigail Adams maintaining her composure and politely extending her hand to shake the paw of the small pup, which is exactly what she did.
So what does all this mean for our new daily routines in 2020? I think we can forgive our pets’ over-eagerness to become our new coworkers. If the warmth of a laptop provides an enticing place to nap, if an inappropriately-timed meow or bark (or worse) interrupts a conference call, or if it’s taken me twice as long to write this because my cat refuses to acknowledge that his food dish is, indeed, full, I’m OK with that. The comfort and unconditional love of our new, furry coworkers might be exactly what we need.
Maybe just don’t let them eat at the dinner table.
 Phillip Papas, Renegade Revolutionary: The Life of Charles Lee, New York University Press, 2014 (122).
 Papas, 124.
 Charles Lee to George Washington, February 9, 1777, as quoted in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, Vol.7, January 13, 1777-April 30, 1777, United States Printing Office, 1932 (148).