Presidential Pets

June 24, 2012 Posted by: Nicole DeLuca, Park Ranger

Hippos, tigers and bears, oh my!   Most of us enjoy the company of a pet in our own homes.   A purring cat or playful dog can easily make its way into our hearts and become a member of the family.  Well, it makes sense that a president would feel no different.   In fact, after a long day in the oval office, coming home to a lovable companion is probably just what a president needs.   This explains why almost all presidents over the years have filled the White House with friends from the animal kingdom.   And while many presidents have had the standard dog, which ranks as the most popular species to frequent the White House, there are some surprising creatures that have held the title of Presidential Pet.

Ted Roosevelt with

Ted Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt's eldest son, with his blue macaw "Eli Yale."

When looking at some of our favorite presidents, we see that their pet choices were as different as the men themselves.  George Washington, the father of our country had over thirty hounds and twelve horses to enjoy one of his favorite activities; fox hunting.  One of his horses, Nelson (his favorite), accompanied him during a great deal of the Revolutionary War, including when Washington accepted General Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown.  Another founding father was partial to animals as well.  Thomas Jefferson had horses and dogs of his own.  But perhaps he is better known for the pair of grizzly cubs he was given by explorers Lewis and Clark.  He was often seen walking the lawn of the White House with the cubs.  And he wasn't the only president that received animals as gifts.  In 1826, the Marquis de Lafayette gave John Quincy Adams an alligator which lived in the White House for several months.  A pair of tiger cubs was given to Martin Van Buren by the Sultan of Oman.  Since Calvin Coolidge was known as an animal lover he was given several different animals from foreign diplomats.  He acquired lion cubs, an antelope, bears, and a pygmy hippo! And after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as a sign of peace, Nikita Khrushchev gave JFK's daughter Caroline Pushinka the puppy, the offspring of Strelka (one of the first living creatures in space).  These pets were all eyewitnesses to our nation's history.

Perhaps the pet that saw the most historic events was that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.   This would be the beloved Fala, FDR's Scottish terrier.   FDR had seven dogs, but Fala was his favorite.   In fact Fala got the Presidential treatment.   Every morning a bone would be brought up for him along with FDR's breakfast.   He would sleep on a special chair at the foot of FDR's bed every night.   He also accompanied FDR almost everywhere he went.   By plane, train, car and boat Fala was part of some big events during the FDR administration.  In August 1941, Fala was at the Atlantic Charter Conference in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland with the President and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.   He went to the Aleutian Islands, the Quebec Conferences and defense plants in Mexico. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial with Fala

Franklin Roosevelt depicted with is dog Fala at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Surely there were some presidents that were too busy to have pets roaming around while leading the nation.  Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation through the Civil War, would come to mind.   But that is incorrect.   Lincoln was an avid animal enthusiast, as were his children.  Cats, dogs, horses, goats and a pardoned turkey all enjoyed a stay at the White House during his administration.  Friends say Lincoln would talk and pet kittens and dogs for hours, it seemed to give him some much needed relief.  He was very proud of his goats Nanny and Nanko.  His sons also loved the goats and would often harness them to chairs and carts and proceed to ride around the White House.

From dogs to bears these first families had them all.  But like the saying goes, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!"

History, Presidents, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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