The Most Famous First Pets to Live in the White House
Dogs and cats have lived at the White House during many presidential terms. So have exotic birds, a flock of sheep and even more unconventional animals!
Pete the Squirrel
President Warren G. Harding and his wife, Florence, had several canaries and two dogs (Laddie Boy and Old Boy), but their most interesting pet was Pete the Squirrel. Pete lived on the White House grounds and would eat right out of people’s hands. Even Navy Secretary Edwin Denby made friends with Pete on the White House lawn.
Some could accuse presidents of being parrots of their party, but George Washington and James Madison had actual parrots in their families. Their wives each had one. Andrew Jackson also had a parrot, which learned how to swear. Someone brought the parrot to Old Hickory’s funeral, but it became unruly because of its persistent swearing. These strange White House jobs are well-paid. Maybe you’ll end up a parrot-keeper!
John Quincy Adams received an alligator from Marquis de Lafayette. The gator apparently lived in a bathroom, and Adams sometimes used it to scare guests. Herbert Hoover’s son, Allan, later owned a pair of gators at the White House. Clearly, scaring guests is not one of the things U.S. presidents are forbidden to do while in office.
Benjamin Harrison had a Billy goat and a Durham cow at the White House during his term from 1889 to 1893. The goat, known as “Old Whiskers,” used to be harnessed so it could haul Harrison’s grandchildren around the White House grounds. According to a 1903 story published in the Washington Evening Star, Old Whiskers took off with Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin, a few years prior to Harrison’s death in 1901. The goat and grandson headed toward an excavation site with the president, who was in his late 50s, chasing after them. Eventually Harrison caught up to the racing goat and grabbed the bridle, preventing any disaster.
After Barack Obama won the 2008 election, he and First Lady Michelle Obama promised their daughters, Malia and Sasha, a new puppy. Bo is a Portuguese water dog given to the first family by Senator Ted Kennedy and his wife. The stories behind these White House ornaments are a piece of history.
Rutherford B. Hayes, who served as president from 1877 to 1881, kept a Siamese cat, the first of the breed ever documented in the United States. He also kept cows, a goat, canaries, and a mockingbird.
Fala, “The Informer”
Dubbed “The Informer,” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dog Fala was instantly recognized when out on walks during secret presidential trips. But the Scottish Terrier redeemed himself by accepting the role of president of Barkers for Britain, a dog lovers organization whose members supported British people affected by World War II.
Guinea pigs, badger, lion, hyena, zebra, and bears—oh my!
Leave it to Teddy Roosevelt, the man who once got shot during a speech and finished it, to have a veritable zoo on the White House grounds. That’s right: The man who carried a big stick also kept snakes, a badger, a lion, a hyena, a zebra, and five bears. That’s in addition to the traditional pets around the place, such as dogs, cats, horses, birds, rats, and guinea pigs. The guinea pigs were named Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, Father O’Grady, and Admiral Dewey. Check out these surprising animals that are actually illegal to keep as pets.
We’ll tread lightly here, but Woodrow Wilson used to keep sheep on the White House grounds to help … with lawn maintenance. It was part of a cost-cutting measure during World War I. Included in the flock was Old Ike, a tobacco-chewing ram.
Calvin Coolidge also kept a small zoo at the White House. Coolidge had a bobcat, a wallaby, two lion cubs, a pygmy hippo, a bear, and a domesticated raccoon. The raccoon, named Rebecca, was kept by Coolidge’s wife, Grace, and was allowed to walk around the White House. The raccoon was even led by a leash at other times, though it was originally sent to the family for Thanksgiving to be eaten with the meal. But the family found the raccoon too domesticated to consume. Instead, the raccoon got her own place to stay in a tree and grew to enjoy playing with a bar of soap in a bathtub filled with a little water. Other Coolidge pets included a duiker (a small antelope), ducks, two canaries named Nip and Tuck, a goose called Enoch, and Smoky the bobcat.
Benjamin Harrison had two opossums during his presidency. The opossums were named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection; reciprocity and protection were part of the 1892 Republican Party platform. We bet you had no idea that these words we use all the time were coined by presidents.
Ulysses S. Grant kept gamecocks at the White House during his presidential term. The birds actually belonged to his son Jesse Grant. Check out these wacky chicken coops that actually exist, like the “Hotel Eggcelsior.”
The Sultan of Oman gifted Martin Van Buren two tiger cubs. Van Buren later gave the cubs to a zoo.
Pauline the cow
William Howard Taft kept a cow named Pauline around so he and his family could enjoy milk. Pauline was the most recent cow to live at the White House. Check out these 12 facts about the White House that you never learned in school.
Thomas Jefferson, known as a man of science, received a pair of grizzly bears from explorer Zebulon Pike. They stayed on the White House lawn in cages for several months until they were taken to a museum in Philadelphia.
James Buchanan kept an eagle during his term. Do you know why the bald eagle almost wasn’t the national bird?
Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached, kept mice he found in the White House and fed them. Check out some other fascinating facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.
William McKinley kept roosters, but Teddy Roosevelt kept a one-legged rooster. No surprise from a man who owned the strange first pets mentioned earlier. Next, check out the 11 most bizarre things presidents have banned from the White House.