Presidential Pets are an integral part of America’s first family. Of the 45 individuals to have been elected to the highest office in the country, only 3 have not had an animal companion of some sort. In recent years many of these animals have risen to fame in their own right. Most noticeably recent animals have been confined to dogs, cats or birds, but in the long history of presidential pets, a veritable myriad of animals have called the grounds of the Whitehouse home. We’ve been turning longform articles into infographic pieces recently and thought this would be a great idea for conversion!
One of the most easily recognised pets to have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW was the Obama family’s Portuguese Water Dog, Bo. Cast your mind back to 2008. To some of us it seems like it was only yesterday. 13 Years ago Barack Obama, then president-elect, revealed plans for the family to adopt a dog. The chosen first pooch was a portuguese water dog, named Bo.
Bo Obama, RIP
Bo’s death was announced recently and many were genuinely devastated. Bo had been a lasting image throughout the Obama presidency and lived a fairly incredible life. From surviving a kidnapping attempt, to starring in comics, articles and viral videos, Bo is probably the first animal that springs to mind when you think about presidential pets. Mostly because the Trump administration was the first in almost 150 years to not bring a pet of some kind into the whitehouse, a fact President Biden’s election campaign had no end of fun with
While we aren’t suggesting that Donald Trump’s canine omission was a factor in his downfall, America is a country that loves it’s pets. It’s also worth noting that Champ and Major, the current first pets, have been a roaring success with the public. However reports suggest that major in particular hasn’t been all that popular with White House Security.
Whilst most of us think of cats and dogs when we think of presidential pets, the White House Grounds have been home to a whole host of other creatures. From badgers and alligators to horses and ducks there have been more than 37 distinct breeds of animal from all corners of the animal kingdom.
Clearly the honest dog comes out as the clear favourite. Over 120 of man’s best friends have graced the halls of the Whitehouse. But you can’t ignore some of the odder animals who pop up far more frequently than others. But who has had what presidential pets? We’re happy to answer, using the power of infographics.
Presidential Pets, 1789 – 1861
The pets of the Presidents in the early years of the United States of America would probably surprise you. It’s important to remember that this was a very different era to our own. One of the most numerous species to be represented in the list of pets to have accompanied presidents is far less common today. The horse. In a time when cars had yet to reach mainstream use, the horse was much more than a pet. It was a vital means of transport and a travelling companion. However as some of these horses are famous in their own right, it felt wrong to leave them out of the list of presidential pets.
George Washington, The first presidential pets.
Although the first president didn’t actually live in the Whitehouse, no list of presidents would be complete without the first man to hold the office. But did George Washington keep pets? Fortunately it’s well recorded that he did. Whilst we don’t have the names for all of them we do have records of some.
A list of George Washingtons Presidential pets include;
- Numerous American Foxhounds
- 4 Black and Tan Coonhounds
- A Greyhound
- An Andalusian Donkey named Royal Gift. A gift from King Charles III, the king of Spain
- A Parrot named Snipe
- Nelson and Blueskin, Washington’s two wartime horses. The most famous of the horses owned by Washington, represented across portraits and literature throughout the decades.
- At least 5 other stallions
John Adams Jr.
The second founding father to take up the highest office in the land and the first to take residence in the Whitehouse. John Adams Jr. was known to be fond of dogs and horses and fortunately in his writings we have the names of his companions recorded.
- 3 dogs named Juno, Mark and Satan
- 2 horses named Cleopatra and Caesar
Thomas Jefferson. Bears, dogs and Dick the Mockingbird
Thomas Jefferson had numerous pets and is the first president where we see the species selection get a little bit strange! Thankfully his writings and reports of the time keep good records regarding the presidential pets of Thomas Jefferson.
- Mockingbirds; Thomas Jefferson had a love of mockingbirds and kept many throughout his tenure as president. The most famous of these being Dick. Dick was given free reign of the Oval Office and was much beloved by the president. He would perch on Jefferson’s shoulder as he worked and would sing along to the president playing the violin.
- Two shepherd dogs
- Caractacus, Jefferson’s horse named for the 1st Century British chieftain
- Two grizzly bear cubs. The first genuinely dangerous animals to be kept in the Whitehouse grounds. Jefferson decided these were “too dangerous and troublesome” to be kept and so they were quite wisely sent to a zoo.
Known as the father of the constitution for his instrumental role in drafting the document. The fourth president also kept a Parrot during his time in office. Polly the parrot ended up outliving both James and first lady Dolley Madison.
Founding Father James Monroe served as the country’s fifth president between 1817 and 1825. 2 dogs accompanied the Monroe family as presidential pets. A husky named Sebastian and a spaniel belonging to the youngest daughter of the family.
John Quincy Adams
The son of the second president had a novel way of differentiating himself from his presidential peers. Supposedly the eighth president kept an alligator in the East Room of the Whitehouse. The East Room is now used for dances, receptions, press conferences, ceremonies, concerts, and banquets, although an alligator would probably be a great way of clearing out dinner guests who’ve overstayed their welcome.
A colony of silkworms was also kept on the grounds and were used for silk which was spun by the First Lady.
The famous general turned president was famous for many things. Andrew Jackson had numerous horses and as well as that a flock of fighting cocks. However his most famous, or should that be infamous, pet was the second parrot named Polly to live in the Whitehouse.
Polly had a bit of a reputation. The parrot learned to swear, it isn’t recorded who from. Polly was taken to Andrew Jackson’s funeral but had to be removed due to loud and incessant swearing. Now there’s a mental image that should brighten your day.
Martin Van Buren
Another President with a penchant for the exotic. Martin Van Buren briefly owned two tiger cubs which were gifted to him by the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. Whilst it would be great to imagine these tigers living in the Whitehouse, getting up to all sorts of mischief and scaring off diplomats, Congress forced Van Buren to donate the cubs to a zoo.
William Henry Harrison
You’d be forgiven for completely blanking at the name William Henry Harrison. President for just 31 days, Harrison became the first president to die in office. Whilst he didn’t have the time to achieve much with his presidency, he did bring two pets to the Whitehouse. A cow named Sukey and a goat of unknown name.
John Tyler, “The General” Beloved mounts turned Presidential Pets
Extremely briefly served as vice president under Harrison and quickly rose to the task of replacing him following his death. President Tyler owned a canary and an italian greyhound. His most famous animal was his beloved horse the General. After the horses death, Tyler had him buried on his plantation with the rather touching epitaph;
James K. Polk
The successor to the office of president was known for being straight and to the point. A one term president who set out his aims and largely achieved them. One of only three presidents to not have a presidential pet.
Another military leader to ascend to the top job. Zachary Taylor spent just 16 months in office before his death as a result of “cholera morbus.” Taylor brought Old Whitey, his wartime mount and Apollo, a trick pony, to the Whitehouse
Another Vice President thrust into a promotion in unfortunate circumstances. Fillmore served from 1850-1853 and brought with him 2 Ponies named Mason and Dixon.
Franklin Pierce is synonymous with the Perry expedition to Japan and the reopening of the country’s borders to trade with the wider world. As part of this diplomatic event, Pierce was presented with 2 miniature Japanese Chin dogs and 2 Japanese birds of unrecorded species.
James Buchanan was the first, and probably last, president to keep the American national bird as a pet. The Bald Eagle is now protected so it’s hard to imagine Joe Biden picking one up at petsmart. Buchanan was also joined by his Newfoundland, Lara, and Punch, a toy terrier.
Presidential Pets from 1861-1913
In the period from the Civil War to the build up to the first World War you would expect the leaders of the country to have slightly more common tastes in animal companions. You would be surprised as this period features some of the more extensive Whitehouse menageries. In this period the Whitehouse was home to some of the most surreal presidential pets imaginable. We implore you to read on as some of these, you will not believe.
Abraham Lincoln, Presidential Pets of Honest Abe
Consistently ranked as among the greatest presidents the country has ever had. Abraham Lincoln led the country through some of its darkest days until his asassination in 1865. Well beloved for his intelligence and humility, other blogs will cover the ups and downs of his presidency better than we can here. The question here is, did Lincoln keep pets? Of course he did! And like their master they have some great stories
List of Abraham Lincolns Pets:
- Two goats, named Nanny and Nanko
- At least 2 horses, most famously Old Bob who participated in Lincoln’s funeral
- Jack the Turkey. Destined for the dinner table, this could possibly be the first example of a turkey being pardoned, due to the intervention of Tad Lincoln.
- Tabby and Dixie, two cats. Lincoln once remarked that Dixie is “smarter than my whole cabinet/”
- Fido the dog. Ever wonder why the generic name for a dog is Fido? It’s after this lovable presidential pet. The dog was Lincoln’s beloved companion and was known to be good natured but easily scared of loud noises and crowds. The dog was known to carry parcels for his master. Unfortunately the dog was cruelly killed by a drunk just a few months after Lincoln’s death.
- A dog named Jip
- A rabbit
Following the tragic assasination of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson took over the office of President. Other blogs and articles will look at whether he was effective or not. He didn’t keep any pets while in office, but was known to feed stray mice he found around the Whitehouse.
Ulysses S. Grant
Heroic General turned statesman. Ulysses Grant had an affinity for horses that was spotted at a very early age. Throughout his military career this served him well and in his political life he continued to keep horses. At least 9 were kept in the Whitehouse, most famously Cincinnati and Butcher’s Boy and Jeff Davis, his wartime mount. He also kept two dogs; Rosie and Faithful.
Rutherford B Hayes
A staunch abolitionist, Hayes won one of the most controversial elections in the history of the country. Losing the popular vote but winning a fiercely contested electoral college win, Hayes pledged not to run for reelection. Whatever may be said about his presidency, it would seem that the President loved animals! Keeping 8 dogs of various species and 3 cats including the first ever Siamese cat in the United States.
James A. Garfield
James Garfield was the 20th US President who served until his assasination in 1881. Garfield served for 4 months and was accompanied by his horse, Kit, and a dog named Veto.
Chester A. Arthur
Vice President to Garfield who took over the office following the presidents assasination. Arthurs presidential pets included a rabbit and three horses.
The only man to hold the office of president in two nonconsecutive periods. Grover Cleveland is responsible for a lot of confusion over the number of presidencies and is generally ranked among the higher mid tier of US Presidents. During his two terms he was fond of mockingbirds and also kept a japanese poodle and 3 dachshunds.
The Grandson of the ill-fated William Henry Harrison. Unlike his ancestor, Harrison completed his full term and was accompanied by some more strange animals.
- 2 alligators which were kept in the Whitehouse conservatory. I understand that alligators are probably a good deterrent to have in your house, but at the same time it seems slightly unbelievable that two presidents have kept these living dinosaurs as pets.
- Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, two opossums. Named for the Republican party platform of the time. We aren’t sure opossums were the best representative animals for your political party but to each their own!
- A goat named Old Whiskers, who carried the president’s grandchildren around the grounds.
- A collie named dash
William McKinley led the country through the Spanish-American War and was the third president to be assassinated. Whilst in the whitehouse, McKinley was known to have kept Washington Post, a Yellow-headed Mexican parrot who could whistle “Yankee Doodle,” Valeriano Weyler and Enrique DeLome – Angora kittens; named after Spanish general Valeriano Weyler and Spanish ambassador Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, and some roosters.
Theodore Roosevelt; An array of weird and wonderful Presidential Pets
Theodore Roosevely has a bit of a reputation for being a little wild. Known for his “cowboy” persona and a bit of a manly reputation, he is widely regarded as one of the best, and definitely the most interesting, President of all time.
It should come as no surprise then that Theodore Roosevelt had a love for nature and the outdoors. Did Theodore Roosevelt keep pets though? You bet he did. Theodore Roosevelt had the widest collection of animals of any President and in keeping with his life, they’re definitely the most interesting.
- Guinea Pigs, named Admiral Dewey, Bishop Doane, Dr. Johnson, Father O’Grady and Fighting Bob Evans
- Hens and a one legged rooster named Fierce.
- 10 dogs of various species
- Bill, a laughing hyena who was a gift from Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia
- A small black bear which was eventually sent to the Bronx Zoo
- Bill the Lizard, a horned toad
- Eli Yale, a Hyacinth Macaw
- A badger named Josiah
- A pig, a rat, a barn owl and 2 cats
- Peter Rabbit, who was given a state funeral on his death
William Howard Taft
Taft had the unfortunate task of following the incredibly popular Theodore Roosevelt. A fairly middling President, Taft kept 2 cows and Caruso, a dog belonging to his daughter. Caruso was gifted to Taft’s daughter by opera singer Enrico Caruso, who had decided cows weren’t good pets for a young girl.
Presidential Pets 1913-1945
In the period covering both World Wars, you would expect the pets to be somewhat more normal. After all this is relatively recent and the spreading use of cars would put a dent in the popularity of horses. You would be correct, except for one president who seems to have gone out of his way to keep strange animals. Have a guess who it might be, then read on for a real shock.
Woodrow Wilson was an instrumental figure in a difficult decade for the western world. Initially keeping the US neutral in the ongoing conflict in Europe he eventually intervened and by many historians reckoning turned the tide of the war completely. Another president who deserves a much longer piece of content written about him, we only have time to consider whether Woodrow Wilson kept pets. The answer is a resounding yes
- A flock of 48 sheep, led by the ram Old Ike. These sheep grazed the lawns of the whitehouse and their wool was donated to the Red Cross.
- Davie an Airedale Terrier and Bruce, a Bull Terrier
- A cat named Puffins.
Warren G Harding
One of the most popular Presidents of his time, although his reputation was slightly sullied following some scandals that came out following his death. Warren G. Harding also kept quite a few pets, including the first bona fide celebrity Presidential Pet.
- Laddie Boy, the Ayreshire terrier. This terrier became the first “celebrity” presidential pet. Famous for his ability to retrieve golf balls, Laddie Boy was much beloved by the administration and the public. The Whitehouse would hold birthdays for him, he had his own seat at cabinet meetings and newspapers would publish fake interviews with the dog. Laddie Boy supposedly howled for 3 days following the death of his master.
- Also owned by Harding, a bulldog, a canary and a squirrel named Pete.
Calvin Coolidge Lot’s of dogs and some other strange Presidential Pets
The last president to arguably go completely off the rails when it came to his animal companions. The administration received and kept some truly bizarre animals as gifts. Alongside the slightly rarer animals kept, Coolidge and the first lady had a love of dogs and kept many breeds, noticeably Collies.
- Dogs, including 4 collies, a wirehair fox terrier, an ayrshire terrier, a shetland sheepdog, 2 chow chows, a boston terrier, a belgian shepherd and an english setter.
- 2 Racoons named Rebecca and Reuben. Rebecca was initially destined for the table but was rescued and kept as a pet.
- Ebeneezer, a donkey.
- A veritable flock of birds. Everything from canaries, to geese and even 13 Pekin ducks.
- A bobcat named Smokey as well as two regular domestic cats.
- Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau, two south africa lion cubs.
- A wallaby, a duiker and a black bear. These were all swiftly sent to a zoo as the needs of the animals were too much even for the animal mad Coolidges.
American businessman and engineer turned president had a penchant for dogs it seems. The Hoover family did adopt a wild opossum living in the First Daughters treehouse, but their love seemed to be for dogs. Hoover kept 8 different species of dog;
- King Tut – Belgian Shepherd
- Pat – German Shepherd
- Big Ben and Sonnie – Fox Terriers
- Glen – Scotch Collie
- Yukonan – Canadian Eskimo Dog
- Patrick – Irish Wolfhound
- Eaglehurst Gillette – Setter
- Weegie – Norwegian Elkhound
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Despite some considerable criticism from some historians, the majority of people rank Franklin Roosevelt as among the best presidents the US has ever had. His tastes in animal companions were suitably sensible and practical. Roosevelt owned 7 dogs, the most famous of these was Fala.
Fala was a Scottish Terrier who was undoubtedly one of the most famous presidential pets of all time. A much beloved member of the Roosevelt household, the little terrier featured in films, political speeches and was seldom far from his master’s side. He was even given the honorary rank of private in the US army.
The faithful dog is the only pet to appear on a washington presidential memorial featuring on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidential memorial.
Harry S Truman
Harry Truman took over the job of commander in chief towards the tail end of World War 2. Only one month after the death of Roosevelt, the Germans surrendered marking the end of the war in Europe.
The Truman family often claimed to want to be pet free, yet they did have two dogs in the Whitehouse. Feller, a cocker spaniel who was given away as a puppy, and Mike, an irish setter.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in world war 2, Dwight Eisenhower made the transition from war hero to president with little difficulty. The five-star general is highly regarded for his leadership of the country in this time period. Joining him in the Whitehouse was his dog, Heidi the weimaraner and a parakeet named Gabby.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, youngest man to ever hold the office of president, took over the job during a hugely turbulent time for the nation. An incredibly popular president in his own time and well regarded by presidential scholars, Kennedy served until his assassination in 1963.
In his time in the whitehouse the Kennedy family kept many pets. John F Kennedy’s presidential pets included;
- Charlie, a welsh terrier
- A poodle named Gaulie
- Moe, a doberman pinscher
- Shannon, a cocker spaniel
- Wolf, a mix of irish wolfhound and german schnauzer
- Clipper, the german shepherd
- A family of ducks that had to be given up due to an ongoing power struggle with Charlie, the welsh terrier
- Pushinka, a gift from Nikita Krushchev. Pushinka was the puppy of soviet space dog Strelka. The dog gave birth to puppies, referred to by Kennedy as “pupniks.” Jaqueline Kennedy asked the Soviet Premier about Strelka, one of the famous Soviet space dogs. In a touching gesture in a difficult time, Krushchev had one of Strelka’s puppies sent to the Whitehouse. This was still the Cold War however, and so Pushinka was scanned for listening devices etc. before being given to the First Family.
- Billie and Debbie, hamsters who met a bit of a horrifying end!
- Also several horses, a canary and a rabbit
Lyndon B. Johnson
Following the tragic death of John F Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson was handed the reigns of the country. Overseeing the United States through the ongoing war in Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson wasn’t popular with large parts of the population, he was however popular with his pets. Amongst hamsters and lovebirds, Johnson had 6 dogs, including 4 beagles, a collie and a mongrel called Yuki, who was famous for “singing” duets with the President.
Richard Nixon is one of the most paradoxical presidents in US history. Lauded by presidential evaluators for his brilliance but equally derided for his seeming lack of morals. “Tricky Dick” was eventually impeached following the Watergate Scandal. But we aren’t here to talk about complex political scandals, we’re here to answer the question: did Richard Nixon have pets?
Nixon had 4 dogs. Vicki, King Tamahoe and Pasha (a poodle, irish setter and terrier respectively.) Most famous was Checkers, a small cocker spaniel. Checkers was a gift during an election run and so was the subject of the “Checkers Speech” Where Nixon claimed that he was the one gift he would not be returning no matter what.
Due to the impeachment and resignation of his predecessor, Gerald Ford became the only person to ever win the Presidency and Vice-Presidency without winning the electoral college vote. Ford claimed in a speech the family were partial to golden retrievers, and that reflects in their pet choice. Alongside Lucky, a dog and Shan, a siamese cat, the Ford Family had a golden retriever named Liberty.
Jimmy Carter is a bit of an odd one. Whilst his presidency was looked on slightly unfavourably due to its mediocrity, his post presidency activities have been nothing short of outstanding. Famous for his philanthropic work, Carter was joined in the Whitehouse by three animals. Grits, a border collie who had to be given up due to his taste for snapping at visiting diplomats and whitehouse staff, Lewis Brown, an afghan hound, and Misty Malarkey Yang Yang, a siamese cat. And no, we don’t know where that name came from.
Hollywood movie star to president used to be the strangest career path to the top office until very recently. Reagan is remembered fondly by the public and presidential scholars alike and usually ranks in the top half of presidents. Reagan had a love of horses and dogs. Although his horses were kept at his ranch rather than the Whitehouse they are still considered presidential pets.
The Reagan family dogs included Lucky, a bouvier des flandres, Rex, a cavalier king charles spaniel, Victory, a golden retriever, Peggy, an Irish Setter, Taca, a siberian husky and Fuzzy, a belgian shepherd. Also 2 tortoiseshell cats.
George H. W. Bush
The older Bush president kept things fairly simple with his animal choices. The Bush family kept a springer spaniel named Millie, and also one of Millie’s puppies. Millie is credited as the author of “Millie’s Book.” This makes Millie the only Presidential Pet to top the New York Times Best sellers list.
Bill Clinton finished his second term with the highest approval rating since 1945. Despite his scandals and being the second president to be impeached, his presidency is often ranked high in the lists. The Clintons were joined in the Whitehouse by Socks, a cat and Buddy, a chocolate lab. The two animals famously detested each other and were constantly at war. Clinton was quoted as saying “I did better with the Palestinians and the Israelis than I’ve done with Socks and Buddy”
George W. Bush
The election of George W. Bush marked the second time a father and son both held office as president of the United States. George W. Bush owned several pets including
- Spot Fletcher, the puppy of his fathers spaniel Millie. Spot is the only presidential pet to live in the whitehouse during 2 separate terms.
- Barney and Miss Beazley, 2 scottish terriers. Barney was much beloved by the public and was the star of the Bush Family Christmas Videos.
- India Willie, a black cat. Largely overshadowed by the dogs of the whitehouse at this time.
- Ofelia, a longhorn cow.
We’ve already discussed the first dog bought for the first family, but as a quick recap. Barack Obama owned two dogs during his two terms. Bo and Sunny, two portuguese water dogs who were hugely popular with the public. Obama’s choice of dog actually had a large knock on effect with the relatively rare breed seeing a resurgence in popularity.
The most divisive president in living memory is only the third president to not be accompanied by a presidential pet. When asked if Donald Trump had pets or would consider getting a pet he gave a resounding no, claiming he didn’t have time. Fair enough a president should be busy but if Roosevelt could keep dogs while guiding the country through a World War, you can probably give up a round or two of golf to take care of a dog.
Interestingly all 3 petless presidents have been one term presidents. That is of course subject to change if Donald Trump runs and wins again.
Again these are two we’ve already mentioned but we will recap. Biden has two German shepherd dogs named Champ and Major. Champ has been with the president since his days as vice president and Biden would pass out plush toys of the dog to visiting children.
Major is a rescue dog and unfortunately has proved to be a little bit bitey! Although he has now received some extra training and is back in the Whitehouse.
And that about wraps it up! That’s all for the pets of the presidents. If you know any facts about the animal companions of country leaders let us know!