Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pets That Have Called the White House Home

By Suzanne Alicie

Each time a new family descends upon the White House, it seems that another pet gets thrust into the spotlight. From George Washington’s menagerie of horses, hounds and a parrot to the current Portuguese Water Dog “Bo” that is owned by the Obama’s, there have been all sorts of presidential pets through the years. Some have lived up to their station and some have had a bit of “sibling rivalry” going on. The Obama family has had to learn about being responsible pet owners with their new puppy, since they haven’t owned a dog before.

The first year I was old enough to vote for the President was the first time I really became aware of presidential pets. I’m not a political person, so I had never really made an effort to learn much about our presidents or government except what I was required to learn in school. I was very surprised to see that after President Clinton’s election, their family cat “Socks” got quite a bit of press coverage. There were even tabloid reports of Socks not getting along with “Buddy,” the chocolate lab who was also part of the Clinton clan.

Over the years, there have been many different breeds of dogs and cats that have called the White House home. A few other types of animals have also held the prestigious title of Presidential Pet.

The Kennedys had a virtual pet zoo going on with several dogs, a cat, canary, parakeets, ponies, hamsters, horses and a rabbit. The Coolidge family had a similar group of pets that included many dogs and cats but also a donkey, bobcat, lion cubs, wallaby and a bear. Many of these animals were presented to the Coolidge’s as gifts from dignitaries visiting from other countries.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt let the White House go to the dogs with his crew that included a German Shepherd, Scotch Terrier, Llewellyn Setter, English Sheepdog, Great Dane, Mastiff and Scottish Terrier. In 1913, William Taft had the last cow to reside at the White House; her name was “Pauline Wayne.” But the next President, Woodrow Wilson, didn’t do away with farm animal pets completely; he owned a sheep named “Old Ike” who grazed on the White House lawn.

While our presidents’ lives are filled with travel, diplomacy, stress and procedure, it is nice to picture them relaxing with their families and their pets. Being a pet lover is something that is universal. Whether you are a president or a working class fellow, whether you own pedigreed show dogs or loveable mutts, and whether you are a self proclaimed “pet person” or someone who grudgingly “lets” a cat live with you and sleep on your feet, you are part of a huge crowd of people who enjoy having pets around.

When President Johnson was holed up in seclusion during his impeachment, he even left flour out at night for a family of mice that played in his room. Over the years there have been very few presidential families that didn’t have any pets at all. However, it has become more common in recent years for there to be just one or two presidential pets. 

The Presidential Pet Museum is located in Presidential Park in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was founded in 1999 as a means of preserving information and items related to the Presidential Pets. Both the Museum and its website are filled with interesting facts and trivia about the many pets that have called the White House home over the years.

Top photo: “Bo” plays in the snow
Bottom photo: “Barney” holds a press briefing

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

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