You don't hear much about the breed anymore, but the Airedale Terrier was the most popular dog of the year in 1921, due to Laddie Boy, who became the nation's Top Dog when his master, Warren G. Harding, was inaugurated at our 29th President on March 4.

Harding died before completing his four-year term, and has since become regarded as one of our worst Presidents for several reasons, but perhaps mostly for what was called the Teapot Dome scandal.

Laddie Boy, however, is recalled as one of the best pets that ever resided in the White House. In the 1920s newsboys collected more than 19,000 pennies that were remelted and sculpted into a statue of the dog. That statue wound up in the Smithsonian Institution.

However, the year's most notorious dog also was an Airedale who might have been regarded as the anti-Laddie Boy. This dog, named Dormie, wound up in court, making legal history in the process.

The trial of Dormie was interesting in many ways. It also was amusing – except to the owners of the cats that were victims of a dog they regarded as a serial killer

Most interesting to me was a line used by the dog's defense attorney that the canine's behavior – toward cats, at least – was the result of "irresistible impulse," a term that would become famous from a Michigan murder case that inspired the book and movie, "Anatomy of a Murder."

For some, Dormie's legal battle was as controversial and compelling as the year's most sensational human trial.

New York Evening Telegram

Dog Goes on Trial for Murder
Before San Francisco Jury
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 13 (United Press) – The case of Dormie, arrogant Airedale accused of catslaughter, today was drawing almost as much attention in San Francisco as did the trial of Roscoe Arbuckle.

Tuesday the alleged killer of Sunbeam and twelve other Maltese, Persian and alley cats, is scheduled to face a jury in Superior Judge Lile Jack’s Court. The real question the jury will decide is whether Dormie must suffer the death penalty for his alleged depredations.

A strong defense has been organized. San Francisco papers appear as if there is a propaganda bureau working. Dormie’s picture is on every hand.

Voluminous statements attributed to his lawyers or friends furnish columns of reading.

Back of it all many believe is the question of the right of cats and dogs to exist.

Dormie himself is going his usual way, playing with his kiddie companions – for he is the pedigreed pet of a fashionable district. He approves with a wag of his tail a dozen statements a day. Among the latest denials and comments attributed to Dormie are these:

That a Stockton dog threatening to sue him for breach of promise is only a blackmailer – that he never knew her.

That the feline population is exceedingly catty.

That he can produce an Angora friend of his who will testify she has raced with him many times and that he cannot run fast enough to catch a cat.

That he is being persecuted by the sausage trust.

That there is a conspiracy against him on account of his wealth and that if he were a poor dog the humane society would intervene.

That Mack Sennett’s dog, Teddy – well known as the canine character in film comedies – had considerable crust in making a statement yesterday insinuating that Dormie was a publicity hound.

“On the other hand,” read Dormie’s latest statement, “I shun publicity.”

Most of Teddy’s interview sounded poetic, but it proves to be poor doggerel on analysis.

Dormie has spread consternation throughout the fashionable Burlingame kennels by threatening to expose the inner secrets of the entire upper strata of dogdom.

Syracuse Journal

Claims Chasing Cats
is a Dog’s Right

Attorney to Base Plea for Accused Airedale on Constitution
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 23 – “Whatever course this case takes, the right of dogs to obey their natural impulses, their right to the pursuit of happiness must be protected,” declared James T. Brennan, attorney for Dormie, arrogant Airedale, accused of catslaughter in connection with the death of Sunbeam, aged eight, and 12 other cats.

He made the statement today in outlining insistence that the court dismiss immediately the charges against Dormie, or that Dormie be given another trial before New Year’s.

“I propose to move dismissal next week,” he said, “on the ground that all creatures are guaranteed by the constitution the right to the pursuit of happiness. Pursuit of happiness to a dog means chasing a cat.”

Dormie, in the meantime, was at the home of his master, Edwin McMillan, where the McMillan children were making elaborate arrangements for his Christmas.

Perhaps the best – and most straight-forward – explanation of the case was presented in the following story. Unfortunately, the available copy was difficult to read. It was one of the relatively few 1921 stories that carried a by-line, which was drowned in ink. The last name may have been Cohn, the first name may have started with a G. And so I left it out of the copy below, which is too bad because I like to give credit where it is due. Others who wrote about the trial tried too hard to be amusing.

Utica Sunday Tribune 1922

Jury Disagrees in Trial of Dog Charged
With Cat Murder; Case Established Precedent

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 7 – Dormie, accused Airedale slayer of 14 cats, has won for dogdom certain legal rights as distinct as those established for man.

A judge has, from the bench and in the presence of a jury, passed upon these legal rights and thus has established a precedent which may affect the great dog population of the United States.

Stripped of its whimsy and its humor, Dormie’s trial by jury on a charge of “murder” has given the canine world a means of escape from all the unwritten laws pertaining to domestic animals and established a definite code.

Briefly, the background of the case of Dormie is this:

A licensed dog of long pedigree, and hence allowed to run about as he pleased, Dormie followed his instinct and, as is the way of a dog with a cat, made war against the feline tribe of his neighborhood. The specific charge was the killing of Sunbeam, a valuable Persian-Angora, owned by Mrs. Marjorie Ingals.

Mrs. Ingals took action under a local ordinance which makes a vicious or dangerous dog liable to death, or imprisonment requiring a muzzle.

Edwin McMillan, owner of Dormie, retained Attorney James T. Brennan, who declared the ordinance farcical, insisted that the life of the dog was in jeopardy under the death sentence clause, held that McMillan was in no way responsible for what happened, and hung the entire case on the animal.

A jury trial was demanded and secured. The hearing was held before Judge Lile T. Jacks. The jury disagreed. They stood seven to five for acquittal. Argument on retrial was set for a later date, and the last chapter has yet to be written.

Some of the unique issues of the case were – can a dog and master be held jointly liable? Has a cat, which is denied a license, any rights? Has a dog any rights under the law? Inasmuch as the code of man holds a dog to be of insufficient intellect to imply responsibility for any action, can he be punished for such action? Can a dog’s general reputation be attacked, or can he be declared a public nuisance?

The legal rights of a dog as established by this precedent are:

1. He can have trial by jury.

2. He can demand to be identified as the specific dog in a specific cat killing. In this instance, some 20 dogs, many smaller in appearance, were brought into court and witnesses asked to point out Dormie.

3. The constitutionality of the ordinance which places his life in jeopardy can be attacked in defense of the dog.

4. He can claim discrimination and can plead that there is one law for the rich man’s dog and another for the poor man’s.

5. He can summon witnesses to pass on his general reputation.

6. He can make claim that a cat has no rights under the law. In Dormie’s case it was shown that licensed dogs may roam freely, but that cats and other domestic animals must be kept in a residence, and, it was argued, had the deceased cats been so kept, Dormie could not have attacked them.

A sidebar to the above story was used to present some of the trial's lighter moments:

F. L. Stone, witness for the State, testified: “That dog was after a cat of mine.”

Defense Attorney Brennan: “We object! How does he know what was in the dog’s mind?”

Marjorie Ingals, prosecuting witness: “He killed three cats of mine ...”

Attorney Brennan: “We move that two cats be stricken out. But one killing is charged.”

Attorney Brennan to witness: “Did Mr. McMillan bite a cat?”

Witness: “No, sir.”

Attorney: “Did McMillan chase a cat?”

Witness: “No, sir.”

Attorney: “Then, Your Honor, we plead that there was no complicity between the master and the dog. We hold that McMillan is charged merely with owning a dog. He did not bite the cat. The dog bit the cat, and there is nothing to show that McMillan was interested in the biting of the cat.”

Attorney Brennan to jury: “Our defense is dementia Airedale, and we plead irresistible impulse.”

Another account of the trial, transmitted by an unidentified wire service, included this paragraph which describes a scene I'd expect to find in a TV series by David E. Kelly ("LA Law," "Boston Legal," "Harry's Law").

It was a hard day for Dormie with Mrs. Marjorie Ingals, the owner of the late Sunbeam, positively identifying him as the fiend who slipped under the hedge fence. She testified he came into her backyard and seized Sunbeam by the back of her sleek fat neck. After several vigorous shakes the cat was no more. The identification was complete after Mrs. Ingals passed up a Russian wolfhound, a spaniel and a giant mastiff as suspects.

From the clippings I found, it looks as though Dormie was tried twice, the first time the jury vote was seven to five for acquittal, the second time only one juror found him guilty. At that point the legal system said enough's enough. Dormie remained free to roam at will ... and I suspect that henceforth his cat-owning neighbors kept their pets indoors, though it wasn't long before leash laws were passed in communities around the country, and today it's much more common to see cats roaming around untended.

But back at the White House, Laddie Boy was on his best behavior, and doing one job particularly well:

Syracuse Journal

“Laddie Boy” to Carry Harding’s Cane Daily
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 – President Harding has taught “Laddie Boy” a new trick.

“Laddie Boy” waits outside the President’s office at lunch time to trot over to the White House beside his master. When Harding came out of his office today he tossed his cane toward “Laddie Boy,” who reared up, caught the stick in his mouth and carried it to the White House for the President. Apparently it’s to be the dog’s daily stunt now.

You don't hear much about Airedale Terriers anymore, perhaps because a lot of them disliked strangers as much as they disliked cats. I found several stories about complaints arising from incidents in which an Airedale bit someone. In 1956, one of my relatives was the victim:
Skaneateles Press, October 26, 1956

John McLaughlin Bitten
By Airedale Dog
While Raking Leaves

John McLaughlin of Fennell St. was bitten by an Airedale dog last Saturday afternoon as he was raking leaves.
Mr. McLaughlin had stopped momentarily to speak with Mrs. Ford, a neighbor, when the animal attacked him, biting him in four places.

Taken to a physician’s office, it was found, happily, the bites were not deep.

The dog was to be confined for 10 days.