Memorable Pets in the White House
While pets may not be into politics, it’s clear that politicians have long been into pets. The love of animals has been part of first families since George Washington—and is the one bridge that clearly crosses party affiliations.
Democratic president James Buchanan kept an elephant at the White House, a gift from a foreign dignitary before Congress suggested that all such wild gifts be kept at a zoo. Republican president Calvin Coolidge had a donkey named Ebeneezer. So much for aligning pets with party affiliations.
ANIMAL ANTICS AND ESCAPADES
Presidential pets have come in all shapes, sizes, and species as evidenced by the following examples:
The Pony Healer: Quentin Roosevelt thought his brother, Archie, would recover from the measles faster if he could only see Algonquin, his favorite pony. Quentin sneaked the pony into an elevator and brought him to his brother’s room. While Archie did smile, the boys’ father, President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), did not. Ponies were strictly forbidden in White House bedrooms from then on.
A Ram-Charged Pickup: President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) had a pet goat named “His Whiskers” that his grandchildren liked to hitch to a small cart to ride around the White House lawn. On one such occasion, His Whiskers spotted an open gate and accelerated through it, charging down Pennsylvania Avenue with the children. The president caught up with them a few blocks later to lead them all home.
Have Dog, Will Howl: President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969) welcomed a stray mutt, found by his daughter Luci, to the White House. Yuki was a small white dog with a talent for singing. In fact, when the first lady traveled to Texas, the president and Yuki would “sing” to her over the phone.
Dog Overboard: His Scottish terrier, Fala, often accompanied President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945) on official White House business. Returning via battleship from a trip to the Aleutian Islands, near Alaska, the president noticed that Fala was not on the ship! The battleship returned to retrieve the missing dog, much to the chagrin of some taxpayers.
A Foul-Mouthed Fowl: President Andrew Jackson’s parrot, Poll, reportedly was kicked out of the president’s own funeral for swearing. Jackson (1829-1837) bought the bird for his wife before he was elected president. The bird outlived both of them and couldn’t resist having the last word, so to speak.
FAMOUS PET PRESENTS
Presenting presidents and their families with pets was a proud tradition for many years. Some of the more famous pet presents include the following:
Caroline Kennedy’s beloved pony, Macaroni, was a gift from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Macaroni delighted the child and the nation alike as the pony was seen pulling children in a sleigh around the White House and frolicking around the White House grounds.
A golden retriever named Liberty was a gift from the White House photographer to President Gerald Ford (1974–1977). A beloved first pet, Liberty received cards and letters from across the country when she gave birth to a litter of puppies. When citizens’ requests for a picture of Liberty and her pups came pouring in, Liberty “autographed” the photos with a special rubber-stamp paw print.
Western explorer Zebulon Pike (after whom Colorado’s Pike’s Peak was named) gave two grizzly bear cubs to President Thomas Jefferson (1801– 1809) back in 1807. The bears made a home in a display cage on the White House lawn. They were cute little ambassadors for venturing west of the Mississippi River until they grew too big for the job and had to be relocated.
The Marquis de Lafayette was famous for leaving France and fighting with the Americans in the Revolution. He was also an infamous “re-gifter.” Shortly after he was given a baby alligator during his travels in Florida, he spent some time at the White House with his friend, John Quincy Adams (1825-1829). The president allowed the baby gator to stay in a bathtub in the East Room. Several months later, Lafayette returned to France and gave the gator to the First Family. It apparently moved to roomier digs in a nearby zoo when the confines of the bathtub grew too small.
BIGGEST ANIMAL LOVERS
Which president turned the White House into a zoo? While political analysts may respond with a number of candidates, the literal answer to the question is Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt and his six children had 13 horses, five bears, five guinea pigs, four dogs, two cats, two parrots, a lion, a hyena, a wildcat, a coyote, a zebra, rats, snakes, roosters, a raccoon, a horned toad, rabbits, a badger, a blue macaw, a barn owl, a pony, and a pig. With all these creatures running about, it’s no wonder he advised the nation to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
The only president to come close to this record is Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929). While Coolidge was a quiet, reserved soul in politics, he had an extroverted wife and two sons at home. They filled the White House with a mirthful menagerie of 12 dogs, four birds, three cats, two raccoons, a donkey, a bobcat, a thrush (a type of bird), a goose, a bear, an antelope, a wallaby, a pigmy hippo, and some lion cubs.
Of all the animals that made their home at the White House during his presidency, Rebecca the raccoon was President Coolidge’s favorite. He had a special house built for Rebecca, visited her every day, and walked her around the White House on a leash. When the White House was being repaired and President Coolidge and his family had to move temporarily, the President worried that Rebecca might get lonely, so he sent a limousine to bring her from the White House to stay with them!
Lions and tigers and bears—and everything in between—have called the White House home at one time or another. Presidential pets are such a fascinating part of White House history that there is now a Presidential Pet Museum dedicated to them in Lothian, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. If you are ever in the area, stop in for a birds’ eye view of the some of the country’s most interesting First Family members!
MEET MISS BEAZLEY
President George W. Bush and the First Lady welcomed a new four-legged member to the First Family on January 6. Miss Beazley, a presidential birthday present for Laura Bush, was also welcomed by the Bush’s other furry residents, 4-year-old Barney—also a Scottish terrier—and a black cat named India.
Miss Beazley, the daughter of Barney’s half-brother (named, curiously enough, Clinton), was named after a dinosaur in a popular children’s book. Although Scottish terriers have been known to protect their turf, all reports so far indicate that Barney and Miss Beazley are getting along famously.
Editor’s note: In general, most veterinary experts do not recommend giving pets as gifts. Keeping wildlife as pets is also not recommended and, in many neighborhoods, is not legal.