From the beginning, every U.S. president has kept some type of animal as a companion.
Once the election is over and a new president has been installed in the White House in January, the next big question will be what pets will also take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Who will be romping or stalking around the Rose Garden, digging up any bones Bo and Sunny left behind or catching unsuspecting critters.
It was Harry Truman who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” And there have certainly been many first dogs—and first cats—throughout the years. All 43 presidents (technically 44 because Grover Cleveland is counted twice), kept pets of some kind. In fact, the White House has been home to a variety of some very unusual pets. Martin Van Buren had two tiger cubs (they were gifts from the Sultan of Oman and were eventually donated to a zoo) and William Howard Taft had a cow named Pauline Wayne.
One of the most interesting menagerie undoubtedly belonged to Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th commander-in-chief, and his wife Grace, who might have been trying to outdo Theodore Roosevelt’s extensive and eclectic collection. They had two raccoons named Rebecca and Horace, along with two cats, a donkey, a bobcat named Smokey as well as a wallaby, a cow, Pygmy hippos and a collection of birds that included canaries, a mynah bird, a parrot and a flock of chickens.
Past presidents have also given their pets some interesting names. George Washington had many dogs, including ones named Mopsey, Taster, Tipsy, Tipler Madam Moose and Sweetlips.
There have also been some weird houseguests. During John Quincy Adam’s presidency between 1825 and 1829, the Marquis de Lafayette visited for two months and brought his alligator along.
In the 20th century, Scottish terriers and various spaniels were popular presidential dogs. President Roosevelt had a Scottish terrier named Fala and George W. Bush had Miss Beazley who was often seen getting on and off helicopters on the White House lawn.
Both President Reagan, and President George H.W Bush loved spaniels. Reagan had a King Charles spaniel named Rex and the Bushes’ Springer spaniels were named Millie and Ranger. While Spot, Millie’s offspring, lived in the White House with George W. and Laura Bush.
When President Clinton was in the White House, Buddy a chocolate Labrador, was in residence along with Socks, a beautiful tuxedo cat. (President Rutherford B. Hayes also had a cat, a Siamese named Siam.)
The feline tradition continued with George W. as America’s 43rd president had the cats India and Ernie. India was reputed to have kept the secret service on their toes by constantly escaping on to the roof of the White House through top floor windows and they were sent to retrieve her.
The media was all agog when President Barack Obama took office because he had promised his daughters a dog and, did in fact make good on that promise. Bo was a gift from the late Senator Ted Kennedy and in 2013, Sunny, another Portuguese Waterdog moved in as companion for Bo.
At one point, there was a museum in Washington that celebrated America’s presidential pets. A former White House dog groomer named Claire McLean started the Presidential Pet Museum.
Now in her eighties, Ms. Mclean is no longer able to run the museum and the entire collection is currently boxed and up for sale along with the aptly named website presidentialpetmuseum.com. If you’d like your own museum, you can bid on this unique collection on the auction site flippa.com.
About the Author: Sandy Robins is the 2013 winner of the “Excellence in Journalism and Outstanding Contribution to the Pet Industry Award.” Her work appears on many of the country’s leading pet platforms, such as MSNBC.com, MSN.com and TODAYShow.com. She is a regular contributor and columnist in multiple national and international publications, including Catster, as well as the author of the award-winning books “Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat” and “For The Love of Cats.” Learn more about Sandy on her website or Facebook page. #welovecats