'Tis the Year of the Tiger at the White House as the Bidens have adopted an elegant gray tiger cat named Willow after Jill Biden's home town of Willow Grove. As anyone who has read my books can guess, I'm a serious cat lover, and I was much taken by the story of how this little gray girl interrupted Dr. Jill during a stump speech in a barn in Pennsylvania during the 2020 presidential campaign.
Apparently the two of them bonded immediately and Willow has been fostered since then, waiting for the right time to join the Biden household. (Willow looks rather like my Smokey, who is also an elegant gray tabby. In my book Once a Spy, a Smokey inspired gray tabby attached himself to the heroine and joined her household under the name Leo. Cats tend to move in like that. <G> That's my Smokey to the right.)
The topic of presidential pets intrigued me so I decided to look more deeply. It turns out that Wikipedia has a treasure trove of material on the subject. This blog is mostly made up of tidbits from that Wikipedia article, and I give my thanks to all the contributors who put this material together.
Only three presidents had no pets at all: James Polk, Andrew Johnson, and Donald Trump, but apparently Andrew Johnson fed white mice found in his bedroom, so I think we can give him credit for that.
Not surprisingly, dogs were the most common pets, because–dogs! Social and happy to be part of the presidential pack. It's worth remembering that Harry Truman allegedly said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." And many presidents have done just that, both because they like dogs, and because in more modern times, having lovable pets is a political plus. Apparently the first White House pet to get regular news coverage was Warren G. Harding's Airedale Laddie Boy.
George Washington had a pack of seven hunting dogs, a mixture of American Foxhounds and Black and Tan Coonhounds. (Plus a greyhound named Cornwallis.) Some presidents had many dogs. Calvin Coolidge ("Silent Cal") had a dozen dogs, plus canaries, a raccoon, and a variety of other critters. Rutherford B. Hayes had eight dogs, all of different breeds. Herbert Hoover had nine dogs, including a Norwegian Elkhound, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had seven dogs.
Interestingly, one of FDR's dogs was a German Shepherd named Major, who was sent to Roosevelt's home after two many biting incidents. One of the Bidens' German Shepherds, also named Major, was also sent to a different home after biting incidents since it was recognized that he needed a calmer environment than the White House. (Theodore Roosevelt had a terrier named Pete who was sent into exile for "chomping on one two many legs.) The canine listings go on and on and on!
(Above left is the official portrait of Grace Coolidge with one of their white collies, Rob Roy.)
Many presidents had horses and ponies, not surprising in an era where horses were a main means of transportation. (A side note: horses can be beloved, but do they qualify as pets if they live in a stable?)
Military men often had horses they'd ridden in the army, which makes sense. George Washington had two wartime mounts, Nelson and Blueskin, plus an Andalusian donkey called Royal Gift, which had been given to him by King Charles III of Spain.
Ulysses Grant, the famous Union general before he became president, had a war horse named Jeff Davis. Being named after the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, presumably indicated a certain lack of respect for the rebels. <G> He had other horses, including one called Butcher's Boy. Grant bought the horse after an impromptu race through the streets of Washington, which Butcher's Boy won even though he was pulling a cart. He must have been one fast horse!
Zachary Taylor was also a soldier who kept his military horse, Old Whitey, at the White House.
Many birds of different species have also lived in the White House, the first being a parrot named Snipe, owned by Martha Washington. James Madison had a parrot named Polly, which outlived both James and Dolley Madison. Parrots can live forty to sixty years in captivity.
My favorite of the presidential parrots listed was Andrew Jackson's Polly, a grey parrot. He was brought to Jackson's funeral but had to be removed because of his raucous and persistent swearing. <G> (That's a gray parrot on the right.)
The White House has also been home to canaries, mockingbirds, parakeets, macaws, songbirds, an eagle (James Buchanan), and more. Abraham Lincoln had goats, horses, dogs, a rabbit, and a turkey named Jack, intended to be Christmas dinner, but whose life was spared when son Tad Lincoln intervened. (Is there where the custom of presidential pardons of a Thanksgiving turkey originated? The Kennedys also had a pair of ducks for Caroline, but there were conflicts with the family terrier, Charlie, so the ducks were sent to safety in Washington's Rock Creek Park. (On the left is a picture of the Kennedy family with several of their dogs.)
The White House has had many resident cats as well. Lincoln had two, Tabby and Dixie. Lincoln is quoted as saying that Dixie was smarter than his whole cabinet. <G> Besides his many dogs, Rutherford B. Hayes had three cats. One, named Siam, was the first Siamese cat in the United States.
The Clinton White House included Chelsea Clinton's black and white tuxedo cat, Socks. Here's a picture of him apparently giving his first news conference. <G> They later got Buddy, a Labrador Retriever. Socks despised him on sight. Clinton
once said that he did better with the Palestinians and the Israelis than he did with Socks and Buddy. <G> (Here's a picture of Socks, apparently giving a press conference. <G>)
There have been all kinds of other critters as well! Thomas Jefferson had a pair of grizzly bear cubs given to him by the explorer Captain Zebulon Pike, but Jefferson said they were "too dangerous and troublesome to keep," which shows good judgment–they can get very large and scary. They were given to a museum in Philadelphia. I hope the museum included a zoo where they could live out their lives; I don't like to think they might have been stuffed and mounted right away!
There have also been goats, sheep, opossums, a miniature hippopotamus, Coolidge's gift wallaby and duiker (a small antelope) were given to the zoo, as was a Mexican black bear. Coolidge also had a pair of lion cubs from South Africa named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.
The ever colorful Theodore Roosevelt had six children and masses of critters around. Besides lots of dogs and several cats and ponies, the household included guinea pigs, a hen, a garter snake, a badger, a pig, a horned frog, a laughing hyena, a piebald rat, a barn owl, and a one legged rooster called Fierce.<G> Woodrow Wilson had a flock of up to 48 sheep, which kept the White House lawn trimmed very economically. When sheared, the wool was sold to benefit the Red Cross.)
If you're an animal lover, I recommend reading the whole of the Wikipedia article just for fun. As a question to ponder–if you lived in a great big house like the White House and had lots of people to help you take care of all the critters, what pets would you like to have? No reason to be practical–tell us what you'd really like to have!