In the next election, we will choose the next occupants of the White House. But we will not choose all of them. Those we choose will then choose others: the First Pets. There have been animals at the White House since John Adams first moved in on that cold November day in 1800, but not all First Families had pets. Many of the first animals were kept for transportation, food or milk, or to control rats and other vermin. First Pets is defined here as pets or other animals owned by the First Family.
George and Martha Washington (1789-1797) never lived in the White House, but they had the very first First Pets. George had Nelson and Blueskin, horses he used during the Revolutionary War. He also had other horses named Samson, Steady, Leonidas, Traveller, and Magnolia among others. Nellie Custis, his stepdaughter, had a horse named Rozinante. But the most famous, or infamous, was a parrot which belonged to Martha. It is said that George and the parrot did not get along, and each kept a close eye on the other when they were in the same room.
It was said that Washington owned 36 dogs. In fact, Washington was not only the Father of His Country, he was the Father of the Foxhound. He is credited with creating the breed by crossing staghounds and Virginia hounds. He had hounds named Mopsey, Teaster, Cloe, Tipler, Forester, Captain, Lady Rover, Vulcan, Sweetlips and Searcher. He also had five French hounds as well.
There is no record of John and Abigail Adams (1797-1801) bringing any pets to the White House with them. They moved in on November 1, 1800, and Adams lost his fight for re-election the next week. Although they owned a farm, and definitely owned many animals, they did not bother having them shipped to Washington, D.C. for the last few months of his presidency.
Birds were popular First Pets early in our history. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) kept mockingbirds, and kept a pet mockingbird in his study in the White House. Jefferson taught the bird to take food from his lips and to ride on his shoulder. Jefferson also had two grizzly bear cubs brought to him in November 1807 by Zebulon Pike after one of his famous western expeditions. At Pike’s suggestion, the two cubs were kept in a large cage in the north circle of the White House. Jefferson later sent the two cubs to Charles Willson Peale’s museum in Baltimore. Jefferson was obviously fond of the bear cubs as is evident in his letter to Peale: “I put them together while here in a place of 10 f. square. For the first day they worried one another very much with play: but after that they played at times but were extremely happy together. When separated & put into their small cage again, one became almost furious. I do not think they have any idea of hurting any one.”
Dolley Madison (1809-1817) owned a green parrot that she rescued from the White House when it was burned during the War of 1812.
James and Elizabeth Monroe (1817-1825) did not own any pets, but their daughter Maria Monroe had a spaniel.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) owned an alligator given to him by Lafayette. John Quincy Adams’ wife, Louisa, owned silkworms.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) owned a number of pets, most of which accompanied him to the White House. One pet never made it. After the election of 1828, Jackson bought his wife a parrot. His wife died before inauguration day, and the parrot stayed in Tennessee. In fact, the parrot outlived Jackson. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that the bird was taken to Jackson’s funeral, but that it had to be removed after disrupting the service with a loud string of profanity.
Among the animals Jackson did take to the White House was his wartime mount, Sam Patches. He also took racing fillies named Emily, Lady Nashville and Bolivia, and his champion racehorse named Truxton. He had an assortment of other ponies.
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) had two tiger cubs given to him, but they didn’t stay very long. William Henry Harrison came with a Billy goat and a Durham cow, but they didn’t stay long, either, because Harrison (1841-1841) himself didn’t stay very long. (He died after 30 days in office.)
John Tyler (1841-1845) had his favorite horse named The General. When The General died, Tyler had a grave dug on his estate, Sherwood. Over the grave, he had a headstone placed with the following inscription: “Here lies the body of my good horse ‘The General.’ For twenty years he bore me around the circuit of my practice, and in all that time he never made a blunder. Would that his master could say the same! John Tyler.”
James K. Polk (1845-1949) had no pets. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) provided a home on the White House grounds for his wartime mount, Old Whitey. There was a serious problem for Whitey, however. Many of the visitors to the White House pulled a hair or two from Whitey’s tail for a souvenir.
Millard Fillmore (1850-1853), Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) and James Buchanan (1857-1861) had no pets. Pets might have added something to their lackluster administrations. None of these President were elected to another term.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) brought a number of pets to the White House. Lincoln himself had a pet pig when he was a child. The family had a dog named Fido, and Tad and Willie had a pony. Tad Lincoln had a white rabbit and goats named Nanny and Nanko, and a Turkey named Jack. Lincoln’s favorite dog was Jip, and he had other dogs and cats at different times. Abraham Lincoln is credited with having the first pet cat at the White House. Previous cats had belonged to the house and were there to control pests, not as pets.
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) did not have a cat. In fact, he had pet mice.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) had a variety of animals. Most were horses. He kept Jeff Davis, a wartime mount and Cincinnatus, his saddle horse. He also had carriage horses named Egypt and St. Louis, and a racer named Julia. The family had Shetland ponies called Reb and Billy Burton. His daughter Nellie had mares named Jennie and Mary. The family also had a horse named Butcher Boy. Jesse Grant had a number of pets. He had a parrot and gamecocks. He also had a Newfoundland dog named Faithful. The family had a number of other dogs.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) kept pedigreed Jersey cows and carriage horses, and a Siamese cat. Scott Hayes, their son, kept dogs and goats.
James Garfield’s (1881-1881) daughter Molly had a mare named Kit.
Grover Cleveland’s (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) wife Frances kept a number of canaries and mockingbirds, as well as a Japanese poodle.
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) had his children and grandchildren living with him in the White House. The grandchildren had a number of pets. Included along with a number of dogs was a Billy goat named Old Whiskers. Old Whiskers would pull the grandchildren in their cart around the White House grounds. But Old Whiskers sometimes displayed a mind of his own, such as the day he ran away with the grandchildren. President Harrison was forced to chase the runaway goat cart down the street.
William McKinley (1897-1901) had an Angora cat and a Mexican double-yellow-headed parrot.
One of the most well known animal-loving families in the White House was Teddy Roosevelt’s (1901-1909). Teddy had six children, and they all loved pets. The family brought to the White House a collection which included dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, guinea pigs, a badger, a black bear, a rat, a parrot and a green garter snake.
The President himself described the menagerie in a letter to Joel Chandler Harris of “Uncle Remus” fame. “All of the children are at present absorbed in various pets, perhaps the foremost of which is a puppy of the most unorthodox puppy type. Then there is Jack, the terrier, and Sailor Boy, the Chesapeake Bay dog; and Eli, the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark supicion; and Jonathan, the piebald rat, of the most friendly and affectionate nature, who also crawls all over everybody; and the flying squirrel, and two kangaroo rats; not to speak of Archie’s pony, Algonquin, who is the most absolute pet of them all.”
Once, when Archie was sick and confined to his bed, his brothers tried to cheer him up by sneaking his favorite pet up to his second floor bedroom. In a masterful piece of planning, the children managed to sneak Archie’s pony Algonquin up in the elevator and into Archie’s bedroom without getting caught.
In addition to the pets already mentioned, the Teddy Roosevelt White House included Bleistein, Teddy’s favorite horse; Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Jocko, Root, Grey, Dawn, Wyoming and Yangenka, all horses; carriage horses named General and Judge; a bull terrier named Pete; a mongrel named Skip; Manchu, Alice Roosevelt’s spaniel; Alice’s snake named Emily Spinach; cats named Tom Quart and Slippers; a badger named Josiah; guinea pigs named Dewey Senior, Dewey Junior, Bob Evans, Bishop Doan, and Father O’Grady. There were also a lion, hyena, wildcat, coyote, five bears, two parrots, a zebra, a barn owl, snakes, lizards, rats, roosters, and a raccoon.
William Howard Taft (1909-1913) kept a cow named Pauline Wayne. This was the last cow kept at the White House. After that, the White House purchased its milk.
During World War I, Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) kept a flock of sheep at the White House. They kept the grass short, and their wool was sold with the proceeds going to the American Red Cross. He also kept a tobacco-chewing ram named Old Ike.
Warren Harding (1921-1923) had one of the more famous First Pets. His Airedale, named Laddie Boy, was well known across the nation. When Harding died, a song was written, “He’s Gone, Laddie Boy,” in honor of his dog. In addition to Laddie Boy, Harding also had a bulldog named Old Boy. He also kept a pen of turkeys at the White House. His wife Florence had several canaries.
Warren Harding was followed in the White House by the greatest White House zookeeper in our history, Calvin Coolidge. The collection of animals in the Coolidge White House exceeded even the Teddy Roosevelt White House in both numbers and varieties of animals.
Coolidge had the usual “normal” pets. He had a dog named Paul Pry and a cat named Tiger. One day, when Tiger could not be found, Coolidge asked the local radio stations to announce a “missing cat” bulletin. Tiger was found, but later ran away again, and was never found.
Paul Pry was an Airedale originally named Laddie Buck. He also had a terrier named Peter Pan and a white collie named Rob Roy. Rob Roy, originally named Oshkosh, appeared in the famous official portrait of First Lady Grace Coolidge, which is still in the White House today. Their other white collie was called Prudence Prim, and their Shetland sheepdog was named Calamity Jane. They had a couple of chows named Tiny Tim and Blackberry, a brown collie named Ruby Rough, a police dog named King Kole, a yellow collie named Bassie and a bird dog named Palo Alto. In addition to the dogs, they also had a variety of birds which included, among others, canaries named Nip and Tuck, a white canary named Snowflake, a thrush named Old Bill, a goose named Enoch and mockingbirds belonging to the First Lady. The Coolidge family also had cats in the White House. Tiger, mentioned above, was an alley cat. Another cat was named Blacky.
But the other animals kept at the Coolidge White House were indeed unique. Coolidge kept two raccoons named Rebecca and Horace. Rebecca used to ride around on Coolidge’s shoulders. He also had a donkey named Ebenezer, and bobcat named Smokey, lion cubs, a wallaby, a bear, and a pigmy hippo. There has never been such an amazing and unique collection of animals in the White House, before or since.
Herbert Hoover loved dogs. His favorite was a police dog named King Tut. His other dogs included fox terriers named Big Ben and Sonnie, a Scotch collie named Glen, an Eskimo dog named Yukon, a wolfhound named Patrick, a sitter named Eaglehurst Gillette, an elkhound named Weejie, and another police dog named Pat.
Franklin Roosevelt was also a great dog lover. He had a number of dogs including a German shepherd named Major, a Scotch terrier named Meggie, a Llewellyn setter named Winks, an English sheepdog named Tiny, a Great Dane named (appropriately) President, and his son Elliot’s mastiff named Blaze.
But the most famous of FDR’s dogs, and possibly the most famous of all Presidential pets, was Fala, a black Scotch terrier. Fala starred in a movie-short that told of a day in the life of a First Pet. But Fala became even more famous in the 1944 election. Franklin Roosevelt took Fala everywhere, but on a trip to the Aleutian Islands, Fala got left behind. Republicans accused President Roosevelt of sending a destroyer back for Fala, at a cost of eight million dollars.
In a famous speech to the Teamsters Union on September 23, 1944, FDR turned the tables on the Republican charges. In this amusing and popular speech, FDR said, “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me — on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No . . . they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent the attacks, and my family doesn’t resent the attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know — you know — Fala’s Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers . . . had concocted a story that I had left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself . . . But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.” It was the most effective speech of the campaign, and it can be said the Fala, the First Dog, helped FDR win his historic fourth term as President. Fala became immensely popular with the American people. Today, at the FDR Memorial, Fala backpacks, pencils and mugs are available for purchase.
Surprisingly, considering his farm background and upbringing, Harry Truman was not fond of animals. His daughter Margaret had an Irish setter named Mike. There was also an “unwanted dog” named Feller. Mike was only there a short while.
The Eisenhower White House had only one pet, a Weimaraner named Heidi.
John Kennedy, having young children, had many pets during his tenure in the White House. There was Charlie, Caroline Kennedy’s Welsh terrier. There was also a cat named Tom Kitten, and canary named Robin, and parakeets named Bluebell and Marybelle. One of the more famous of the Kennedy pets was Macaroni, Caroline’s favorite pony. Macaroni received thousands of fan letters from children around the country. There were other ponies named Tex and Leprechaun as well. The First Lady also had a horse, named Sardar. Other Kennedy pets included dogs named Shanon, Wolf and Clipper and a rabbit named Zsa Zsa.
Another famous First Pet, for political as well as family reasons, was a dog named Pushinka. Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev gave this dog to Caroline Kennedy. Pushinka was a mongrel, and the offspring of a dog sent into space by the Soviet space program. Charlie (listed above) and Pushinka had puppies, hailed as the first Soviet-American litter in history. The puppies were named Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie and Streaker.
Lyndon Johnson was very found of animals, especially dogs. In addition to a number of hamsters and lovebirds were a number of dogs, mostly beagles. Johnson started with Beagle and Little Beagle and a mongrel named Yuki. Johnson and Yuki liked to perform by throwing back their heads and howling (Johnson called it singing) together. But the most famous of the Johnson pets were beagles named Him and Her. They often accompanied Johnson as he walked around the White House grounds with reporters. Johnson created a national furor when he held up Him by the ears, stating that the yelps were sounds of playful pleasure. Animal lovers from all over the nation protested.
The Nixons had several dogs. They had a poodle named Vicki, a terrier named Pasha, and an Irish setter named King Timahoe. But their most famous dog was not actually a First Pet. When Richard Nixon was first running for Vice President, he was accused of financial irregularities. He made a speech on national television, one of the first politicians to effectively use the medium, to defend himself. The most famous part of the speech was when Nixon movingly told of taking just one personal gift, a dog given him for his daughters and which he was going to keep no matter what because his daughters loved that dog. The dog’s name was Checkers, and the speech became known as the Checkers speech, and is credited with saving Nixon’s political career.
There were only two pets in the Ford White House. Susan Ford had a Siamese cat named Shan. The President had a Golden Retriever named Liberty. The popular TV comedy show “Saturday Night Live” often featured skits about the President, and often included Liberty. Liberty had puppies in the White House, which also made national news.
President Jimmy Carter had a dog named, appropriately, Grits. His daughter Amy had a Siamese cat named Misty Malarky Ying Yang.
When President Reagan moved into the White House, he and Mrs. Reagan had a Bouvier des Flandres (a breed of sheepdog) puppy named Lucky. Lucky, however, wasn’t. He grew up very quickly into a very large dog. There was a famous picture of Lucky dragging the President across the White House lawn in front of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was soon thereafter exiled to the Reagan ranch in California, where it lived very happily. Lucky was replaced in the White House by a (much) smaller King Charles spaniel named Rex. The Reagans had many dogs and horses at their ranch in California.
George and Barbara Bush also had one of the more famous First Pets, and certainly the most accomplished First Pet of all times. Whereas Fala starred in a movie, Millie, a Springer spaniel, supposedly wrote a book. Millie’s book was on the New York Times best-seller list for months. Interestingly, the book was listed in the category of nonfiction. One of Millie’s puppies, Ranger, stayed on with his mother and the First Family.
Today, the senior First Pet is Socks the cat. There was much speculation as to Sock’s reaction when another pet was added to the household. In December of 1997, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Buddy moved into the White House.
It remains to be seen whom the American people will elect as the next First Pet. This may be one of the deciding factors in this close race for the White House. Consider carefully, choose wisely and well. History is waiting for your answer.