Presidential pet stories
Presidential pet stories, Fun facts about presidential pets, Lyndon Johnson shared the Oval Office with some oddly named Beagles. The father of our country is also, according to legend, the father of the American Foxhound. George Washington bred his own hounds; knowing this, the Marquis de Lafayette – American ally during the Revolutionary War, and Washington's close friend – sent Washington several hounds. (Future president John Quincy Adams was detailed to escort them by sea from France, and got into Washington's doghouse – excuse the pun – when he ditched them in New York harbor after the ship docked.)
We can't say we blame him; the hounds were apparently so keyed up that Washington had to assign a servant to watch them during mealtimes, lest they rip each other to shreds over their food. But enough of the stock survived these combative suppers for Washington to breed them with his own hounds – and create the American Foxhound.
Washington also bred mules, sometimes using donkey stock sent to him by King Charles III of Spain.
John Adams kept, among other pets a mixed-breed dog named Satan; some sources say his wife Abigail named the pooch.
Thomas Jefferson received a pair of grizzly bears from the delightfully named Captain Zebulon Pike (Pike, having strayed into Spanish territory by accident on an expedition, bought the bears from a local while being escorted back to U.S. soil). Jefferson didn't keep the bears for long, though, sending them to his artist and naturalist friend Charles Willson Peale – but until transport could be arranged, the cubs lived in a cage on the lawn of the president's house. (It didn't end well for the bears once they reached Peale's care; more on their journey here.)
Jefferson also owned more conventional pets like Briard dogs, and a mockingbird named Dick.
James Madison's wife Dolley had a green parrot, although the name of the bird is lost to history.
James Monroe's pets included sheepdogs, and a black spaniel that belonged to his granddaughter.
Apparently Lafayette didn't approve of John Quincy Adams's treatment of the dogs he'd gifted to Washington; when Adams became president himself, Lafayette had an animal gift for him, too – an alligator, which Adams is said to have kept in a White House bathroom. Well, except for when he brought it out to scare guests with.
He's also said to have kept silkworms, although we doubt they slept at the foot of his bed. (Might have made him a duvet, though.)
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Andrew Jackson taught his pet parrot, Pol, to swear. Pol outlived Jackson, and in fact had to be removed from Jackson's funeral service because it wouldn't stop cursing. Jackson also kept fighting roosters, which may have seen service at the reception for Jackson's first inauguration; this party apparently devolved into a donnybrook rather rapidly, with Jackson departing via a window shortly after arriving.
World leaders continued the inappropriate-pet-gift tradition with Martin Van Buren, who received two tiger cubs as a present from the Sultan of Oman. Van Buren regifted the felines to the zoo, under orders from Congress; he isn't known to have owned any other pets.
We don't know if it's fair to say that William Henry Harrison "had pets" in the White House; the only thing Harrison really had in the White House was pneumonia, which he infamously caught on Inauguration Day and which killed him after only a month in office. Had he lived, he'd have kicked it farm-style; his pets included a goat and a cow.
John Tyler seems to have avoided the impractical-exotic-pet gift, but he did fall prey to ego, naming his pet canary "Johnny Ty" after himself. (We suppose a family member could have named it.) The grandiloquent pet-naming continued with Tyler's horse ("the General") and his Italian Greyhound ("Le Beau," or "the beautiful one").
James K. Polk, a.k.a. "one of the presidents everyone forgets while trying to list them all and win a bet at the pub," didn't distinguish himself in the pet department, either. Sources report him owning either "a horse" or "horses," with no names given. Given that dancing and music were not permitted at White House fetes during his tenure, we suspect he wasn't trying to hear about shedding pets underfoot either.
A hero of the Mexican-American War, Zachary Taylor – who had never held elected office prior to becoming president – rewarded his campaign horse, Old Whitey, with a berth on the White House lawn, where the equine kept the grass short and delighted the tourists. When Taylor died only 16 months into his term, Old Whitey trailed the funeral parade.
Some sources say Millard Fillmore (the other president you can never remember at the pub) didn't have any pets. Others claim he had two ponies named Mason and Dixon. The second claim sounds fishy to us, kind of, but the truth is stranger than fiction sometimes. (Wait 'til you read the Andrew Johnson entry.)
Did Commodore Matthew Perry bring back a pair "sleeve dogs" for Franklin Pierce (one of whom, Bonin, Pierce handed off to future Confederate President Jefferson Davis)? The breed was likely the Japanese Chin, although some accounts have Perry bringing home three pairs, one each for himself, Pierce, and Queen Victoria -- and only Perry's dogs surviving.
Others say Pierce had no pets at all – but he did found the Buffalo, NY chapter of the ASPCA, so that's something.
James Buchanan, who never married, did keep a lady friend in the White House – a Newfoundland named Lara who slept near him with one eye open. Not a bad idea in the troubled political times of the 1850s. And in case the Newf wasn't big enough for Buchanan, the King of Siam sent a pair of elephants. Apparently, people worried about the bachelor president getting lonely, so they sent him all sorts of pet gifts, including a pair of bald eagles.
Abraham Lincoln had a passel of pets living with him at the White House – pet goats Nanny and Nanko, favorites of his son Tad, who slept with them in his bed and harnessed them to chairs; a dog, Jip; kittens given to Lincoln by Secretary of State William Seward; and a turkey named Jack for whom Tad obtained a presidential pardon from Christmas dinner in 1863. Jack is memorialized in sculpture form in downtown Hartford, CT.
Andrew Johnson, often considered one of the country's worst presidents, fed white mice he found in his bedroom. "Neutered" by his impeachment, the lonely Johnson began to call the mice his "little fellows," leaving water and a basket of flour on the floor for them.
Union war hero Ulysses S. Grant favored horses during his presidency, including Butcher Boy, Cincinnatus (given to him by the people of Cincinnati, OH), Egypt, the snidely named Jeff Davis whom he rode in the war, Jennie, Julia, and others. Grant also had dogs – Rosie, and the Newfoundland named Faithful. Faithful belonged to Grant's son Jesse, who had lost several previous dogs to untimely deaths – so Grant warned the White House staff to cosset Faithful, or he'd fire the lot of them immediately.
The list of pets Rutherford B. Hayes didn't have is probably shorter than the list of the ones he kept – 7 different dog breeds, a goat, a mockingbird, and at least three cats (one of whom probably had to chase down Andrew Johnson's mice), on and on. Hayes himself noted in a letter that the menagerie "[gave] a Robinson Crusoe touch to our mode of life." The highlights of the herd: another Newfoundland, Hector; a Greyhound named Grim; and cats named Piccolomini, Siam, and Miss Pussy. Siam is probably the first Siamese cat to arrive on U.S. soil and was a gift from David B. Sickels, a U.S. diplomat posted to Bangkok. Siam became a favorite of Hayes's daughter Fanny; when he took ill, the president's personal physician was summoned to care for him.
James Garfield had a horse named Kit, and a fish of some sort, but our favorite pet of Garfield's is his dog, Veto.
Chester Arthur kept horses, but we don't know if that counts, as everyone at that time kept horses for transport.
Grover Cleveland had mockingbirds – a pet that keeps showing up in the annals of chief-executive animalia – and a bulldog named Hector. The town of Hector, AR is named for the dog (postal officials got tired of the community's dithering over its incorporated name; when townsfolk couldn't choose between "Avondale" or "The Plain," they got "Hector" instead).
Benjamin Harrison had a goat named Whiskers (sometimes known as "His Whiskers" or "Old Whiskers"), a Collie named Dash – and two opossums, Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection.
William McKinley is best known today for getting shot in the stomach and dying of the resulting gangrene; we'd like to see him gain a reputation for original pet names. Take his yellow-headed Mexican parrot, Washington Post (McKinley would whistle the first part of "Yankee Doodle"; the bird would complete the tune), or his Angora kittens, Valeriano Weyler and Enrique DeLome (figures of note in the Spanish-American War). He also had some roosters running around.
Theodore Roosevelt could have opened a zoo; he probably had more pets than Cabinet members, including a Bull Terrier, a Manchester Terrier, a Peke, a Cheseapeake Bay Retriever, and a Saint Bernard – and that's just the dogs. The White House animal brood also included a fleet of guinea pigs with awesome names like Dr. Johnson, Fighting Bob Evans, and Admiral Dewey; a macaw named Eli Yale; a one-legged rooster; Emily Spinach the garter snake; Maude the pig; Bill the lizard; Josiah the badger; and various cats, mutts, rabbits, owls, ponies, and even a hyena.
William Howard Taft had a dog, but his most notorious pets are his cows, Mooley Wooly and Pauline Wayne. The Tafts had growing children when they first arrived at the White House, and Taft was rather a big milk-drinker himself; the cows supplied the family with dairy products. But they also served as pets – the family loved the cows. "Miss Wayne" grazed the White House lawn, and was the last presidential pet cow to reside at the White House; she herself came from a Wisconsin senator who sent her as a gift, but where her name came from isn't known.
Woodrow Wilson had a cat named Puffins, a Greyhound named Mountain Boy, and a couple of terriers – but his most notable pet is Old Ike, a tobacco-chewing ram. (Visitors fed the ram the tobacco initially, which addicted him.) Wilson watched Ike from the White House windows as he grazed the White House lawn, in the company of a few sheep.
Warren G. Harding was as good at naming pets as he was at ferreting out corruption in his administration – i.e., not very. He had an Airedale Terrier named Laddie Boy, and a Bulldog named Old Boy. Laddie Boy, a celebrity canine beside whom Bo pales, had his own custom-made chair to sit in during Cabinet meetings, and would go up trees to retrieve errant golf balls for his master.
Calvin Coolidge is known for not talking much, but maybe, like Dr. Doolittle, he talked to the animals – he certainly had enough of them in the White House with him. White Collies named Rob Roy and Prudence Prim; Chows, Shelties, and Terriers; raccoons, canaries, and a bobcat; a pygmy hippo; a wallaby; a black bear; and lion cubs named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau. Coolidge started acquiring kooky pets while he was Vice President – was he our first presidential animal hoarder? – and is said to have walked his raccoon, Rebecca, around the White House on a leash or draped around his neck.
Herbert Hoover, like many 20th-century presidents, favored dogs – the most famous are likely Big Ben and Sonnie, his Fox Terriers, but he also had King Tut (Belgian Shepherd), Pat (German Shepherd), Patrick (Irish Wolfhound), Weejie (Norwegian Elkhound), and various other breeds. His son Allan's alligators (say that five times fast) also got to wander the White House grounds on occasion.
You spend as much time in the White House as FDR did, you're going to acquire a fair number of pets – but Roosevelt didn't have an outlandish number. He seemed to favor Scotties like Fala and Meggie, but he also had bigger dogs like Majora (German Shepherd), Tiny (Old English Sheepdog), President (Great Dane), and Blaze (Bull Mastiff). Fala, his constant companion in Roosevelt's later years, was named for one of Roosevelt's own Scottish ancestors, "Murray the Outlaw of Falahill." Fala went everywhere with his president – including ships, trains, and planes – and his need to be walked during long trips often tipped civilians to the president's presence, which led the Secret Service to code-name Fala "the Informer."
Fala outlived his master by seven years, and is buried near Roosevelt.
Harry S. Truman kept it simple; he and his wife preferred to remain pet-free. While they did receive two dogs during their White House stay, an Irish Setter and a Cocker Spaniel, the dogs were both given away after short stints to families who could give them more attention.
Dwight Eisenhower couldn't marshal his Weimaraner, Heidi, the way he could the troops – Heidi didn't like Eisenhower's wife, Mamie, and jumped on the First Lady whenever she tried to approach the president. She also ruined a $20,000 rug to demonstrate her dissatisfaction. Eisenhower didn't give up on her, though, and was frequently photographed with Heidi during his time in office.
The kids running around JFK's White House may have built a larger collection of pets than some presidents, including ponies (Macaroni, Tex, and Leprechaun), parakeets (Bluebelle and Marybelle), hamsters, cats, dogs, and a rabbit named Zsa Zsa. Kennedy's most controversial pet, though, is probably Pushinka, a mutt given to Caroline Kennedy by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Pushinka, an offspring of Soviet space dog Strelka, got along well enough with Caroline's other dog Charlie (a Welsh Terrier) to "collaborate" on four puppies together. (Kennedy called them "the pupniks.")
Lyndon Johnson had hamsters and lovebirds during his contentious time in the Oval Office, but his favorite species is the Beagle. Several "Snoopy dogs" shared the White House with LBJ, including Freckles, Edgar, and of course the two with the most utilitarian names: Him and Her. One famous photograph of Johnson lifting Him by the ears caused a firestorm of protest; activists claimed it was cruel, but former president Truman and others shrugged that "that's how you handle hounds." (Don't try it at home.)
While in the White House, Richard Nixon had three dogs – a Terrier named Pasha, a Poodle named Vicky, and an Irish Setter named Timahoe. Nixon's most famous pet, Checkers, died before Nixon won the presidency – but of course played a key role in Nixon's 1952 "Checkers speech" and the regard it won for Nixon.
Gerald Ford went with a popular dog breed – the Golden Retriever. He had two of them, Liberty, and Misty, Liberty's puppy; legend has it that one night, when Liberty's usual caretaker was off, Ford offered to walk the dog himself, and got himself locked out of the White House. (Ford's daughter Susan had a Siamese cat, Shan.)
Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy also had a Siamese cat, the elaborately monikered Misty Malarky Ying Yang. These pets were joined by an Afghan Hound named Lewis Brown and a border collie named Grits (hee), but Grits was soon returned to the teacher who gave him to Amy as a present. (Rumor has it he had a temper and didn't get along with MMYY.)
Ronald Reagan's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Rex, made an early appearance lighting the national Christmas tree in 1985. Rex was a gift from conservative thinker Bill Buckley, who owned Rex's mother, and brother Fred. Rex, named for chief White House usher Rex Scouten, had a doghouse that made news for its lavishness. The previous canine occupant, a Bouvier Des Flandres named Lucky, had gotten too big and rambunctious for the White House, so the Reagans sent her to their Rancho del Cielo estate. The Reagans also had a Golden named Victory, a Siberian Husky named Taca, and a Belgian Sheepdog named Fuzzy, among other dogs.
George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush's Springer Spaniel, Millie, was possibly the most popular occupant of the first President Bush's White House. She had puppies while she lived in the White House – including Ranger, whom the Bushes kept – and she "wrote" a book that described a day in White House life, which included morning briefings…and breaks to chase squirrels. Her dog bed is a part of the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX.
Bill Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, brought her cat, Socks, with her to the White House when the Clintons moved in in 1993, and he assumed office as First Cat. In 1997, he was joined by a chocolate Lab named Buddy (not that Socks was happy about it, mind you), whom the president named after his late great-uncle. Buddy and Socks had plenty of room to avoid each other in the White House, but when the Clintons moved to New York, separate quarters weren't practical and Socks was left with secretary Betty Currie.
Buddy's untimely demise came on a road outside the Clintons' home in Chappaqua, NY, when he was struck by a car.
The more recent George Bush favors dogs as well; his Springer Spaniel Spotty Fletcher, named after baseball player Scott Fletcher, was Millie's puppy. The Bushes also kept Scottish Terriers Barney and Miss Beazley Weazley (Miss B was a 2005 birthday gift from the president to Laura Bush). Other pets included Willie, who lived to the ripe old age of 19, and Ofelia, a cow who bunks at Bush's Crawford, TX ranch.
And of course you all know Bo Obama, the Portuguese Water Dog and current First Dog.