Harry S. Truman once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get
a dog." And, as far back as our very first
President, there have been pets sharing the White House. In fact,
more pets than people have inhabited the White House over the years.
In some cases the animals represent gifts from foreign dignitaries,
the most notable of which is the herd of elephants given to James
Buchanan by the King of Siam.
Of course, in the earliest days of our country, Presidents and their
families kept carriage horses and favorite hounds for hunting; they
were more necessity than luxury. George Washington had at least 9
horses, specifically stallions. They had names like Magnolia,
Blueskin, Samson, Leonidas and Traveler. He also had hounds with
names like Mopsey, Sweetlips, Tipler, Cloe, Taster and Lady Rover.
To cut costs during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson brought in
a flock of sheep to take care of the White House’s groundskeeping
duties. His favorite ram, Old Ike, supposedly chewed tobacco. And
there have been all varieties of cats and dogs.
In his victory
speech, Barack Obama promised his young daughters that they would
get to bring a new puppy with them to the White House. The country
has had 44 Presidents and only three of them – Chester A. Arthur,
Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce – left no record of having
pets. Like Obama himself, the family dog will have some big shoes to
fill because there have been some pretty unusual White House pets!
Coolidge’s Pygmy Hippopotamus, “Billy”
- After taking over the presidency upon
the death of President Warren G. Harding, President Coolidge
assembled a menagerie that would rival most zoos’ collections. He
had six dogs, a bobcat, a goose, a donkey, a cat, two lion cubs, an
antelope, a wallaby and birddog raccoons named Rebecca and Horace.
The main attraction in his personal zoo, though, was Billy, a pygmy
hippopotamus. Billy was captured at a young age in Liberia and came
into the possession of tire mogul Harvey Firestone, who gave Billy
to President Coolidge as a gift. Coolidge donated Billy to the
Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Since there were only a
handful of pygmy hippos in the U.S. at the time, Billy quickly went
to work as a stud, siring 23 little hippos, and many of the pygmy
hippos you see in American zoos today are his offspring.
– President Herbert Hoover owned a slew of dogs, but those weren’t
his only pets. His second son, Allan Henry Hoover, owned a pair of
alligators that were occasionally allowed to wander around the White
House grounds. John Quincy Adams, the 6th President, also
had a pet alligator. His was a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette.
It lived in a bathroom in the East Room
of the White House. According to some reports, President Adams
enjoyed using the alligator to scare his guests.
FDR’s Traveling Companion, “Fala”
- In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt
received a Scottish Terrier puppy named Big Boy as an early
Christmas gift from a family friend. FDR immediately realized that
Big Boy was no name for a presidential companion and rechristened
the pooch Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after a Scottish ancestor.
For the sake of simplicity, though, he called his new pal Fala.
After that, Fala became FDR’s inseparable companion and traveled
everywhere with the President. The dog “gave” $1 a day to the war
effort - generosity that earned him the rank of Honorary Private in
the U.S. Army. Each morning when FDR’s breakfast tray came in, it
included a bone for Fala. Fala stayed with FDR until the President’s
death in 1945 and lived in the care of Eleanor Roosevelt until his
death in 1952.
Buchanan's Elephants –
The King of
Siam offered a herd of elephants to the 15th U.S.
President, James Buchanan, thinking they could be released in the
forests of the U.S.A. and utilized for heavy work. Buchanan's
successor, Abraham Lincoln, replied to the king, according to the
National Archives, politely declining the elephants and explaining
that the geography and the climate of the United States did not
"favor the multiplication of the elephant."
Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection
– President Benjamin Harrison kept two opossums, named Mr.
Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, as pets.
President Harrison had a goat called His Whiskers who used to pull
his grandchildren in a cart around the White House lawn. On one
occasion, His Whiskers took off beyond the White House gates
prompting the President to chase him down Pennsylvania Avenue.
- Besides their 12 horses, five dogs and two cats, President
Theodore Roosevelt and his family kept Emily Spinach (a garter
snake) along with Eli Yale (a Macaw), Josiah (a badger), Maude (a
pig), a flying squirrel, two kangaroo rats, at least five guinea
pigs, most of which were named after members of the clergy (such as
Bishop Doan and Father O’Grady), and the first White House horned
toad, named Bill. Roosevelt also hosted a lion, a hyena, a wildcat,
a coyote, a zebra, an owl, a raccoon and an assortment of lizards,
rats and fowl. And then there was
Edwards. President Roosevelt received this black
bear cub as a gift from supporters in West Virginia who gave the
bear the name.
Roosevelt also had a calico pony called Algonquin. Algonquin was a
particular favorite of young Archie Roosevelt and, on one occasion,
when Archie was sick and confined to his bedroom on the second
floor, his thoughtful brothers guided Algonquin into the White House
and up the elevator to Archie’s room to cheer him up.
Martin Van Buren’s Tiger Cubs -
The first two
cats to call the White House home were a pair of tiger cubs given to
Martin Van Buren, the eighth president. The cubs, a gift from the
Sultan of Oman, soon became the subject of debate. Van Buren wanted
to keep the cubs at the White House, since they were a gift for the
new president. On the other hand, Congress insisted the cubs didn’t
belong to Van Buren, but rather to the people of the United States.
The argument continued back and forth between Van Buren and
Congress. Eventually, the tiger cubs ended up at a zoo.
– President William Howard Taft liked milk so much he brought his
own cow to the White House so he could always have fresh milk. Her
name was Mooly Wooly. Mooly was replaced by another cow named
Pauline Wayne who was the last cow to graze on the White House lawn.
“Dick”, the Mockingbird
– President Thomas Jefferson had a fondness for singing birds,
having purchased his first mockingbird from one of the slaves of his
father-in-law, John Wayles.
At least two
of the birds in the President's House had already received singing
lessons when Jefferson purchased them in 1803 - for $10 and $15
dollars, the usual price of a "singing" mockingbird. The birds
reportedly serenaded with popular American, Scottish, and French
tunes, as well as imitations of all the birds of the woods.
Jefferson’s weather notebook reveals that he had at least four
mockingbirds but “Dick” was
unquestionably the favorite. Jefferson reportedly cherished Dick,
not only for his musical aptitude, but for his intelligence and
affectionate disposition. Dick was the President’s constant
companion; whenever he was alone he opened the cage and let the bird
fly around the room. The bird often rode on Jefferson's shoulder
and was trained to take small bites of food held between Jefferson's
lips at mealtime. President Jefferson also
received two pet grizzly bear cubs as a gift from Lewis and Clark,
but they didn’t hang around the White House.
Of Mice and
- President Andrew Johnson shared the
White House with a family of mice who lived in his bedroom.
Seriously. Although they were not originally invited guests, he made
them feel welcome; he’d place fresh water next to the
fireplace and keep a constant basket of flour for them on the floor.
Referring to the mice as his “little fellows,” a lonely Johnson
appreciated the fact that they didn’t care where he came from (poor
sharecroppers in North Carolina)—or whether or not he’d just been
impeached (which occurred in 1868).
Laddie Boy, Media Darling
– President Warren G. Harding’s beloved Airedale terrier was a
the President played golf and hit a tree, Laddie Boy would run up
the tree and get the ball. Laddie Boy had his own hand-carved chair
to sit in during cabinet meetings. The White House held birthday
parties for the dog, invited other neighborhood dogs to join, and
served them dog biscuit cake. Newspapers published mock “interviews”
with the dog including one in 1921 with The Washington Post
in which Laddie Boy “discussed” Prohibition and his hopes that the
workday for guard dogs would be shortened. Upon President Harding’s
death, newsboys collected 19,134 pennies to be re-melted and
sculpted into a statue of Laddie Boy in Harding’s memory. Harding's
widow died before the statue was completed in 1927 and the statue
was presented to the Smithsonian Institution where it currently
For more information and great old photos from White House archives,
www.whitehouse.gov, search for the term
“presidential pets” in the search bar, and follow the links. There
has been so much interest in Presidents and their pets that the
Presidential Pet Museum was established in 1999. Currently located
in Williamsburg, Virginia, the privately-funded museum has a website
with lots of interesting facts about First Family pets. Visit the