June 1, 2023 is the 100th anniversary of the death of then-Governor Percival Baxter’s beloved Irish setter, Garry II. The death of a Maine governor’s pet seems an unlikely event to note 100 years later. But Baxter’s actions following Garry’s passing made headlines around the country and are still remembered today.
Garry was Baxter’s constant companion in the State House, and even had his own couch in the governor’s office. When Garry died, Baxter ordered the flag atop the State House to be lowered to half-staff. State and national military veteran groups protested this act, decrying Baxter’s order as a sign of disrespect and dishonor to those who had sacrificed to serve under the flag.
Baxter’s response to the criticism was swift and firm. He wrote a long defense of his action, concluding: “I firmly believe that when the men and women of this state and nation think through what I have done they will see…that my act heightens the significance of our flag as an element of human achievement that has been made largely through the faithful services and sacrifices of…animals.”
The importance of Garry is captured through his inclusion in Baxter’s official gubernatorial portrait that hangs in the State House. A recent Maine State Museum acquisition – a cane that belonged to Baxter, with a decorative carved handle in the shape of dog’s head – also recalls the significance of dogs in Baxter’s life and the extraordinary, public action he once took to honor their unselfishness and loyalty.