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30 Bizarre Presidential Pets

Thomas Jefferson – Dick the Mockingbird

Thomas Jefferson – Dick the Mockingbird

Jefferson loved birds, and Dick is believed to be the first Presidential pet to actually live at the White House. Jefferson in particular thought of the mockingbird as “a superior being.” The little creature would perch on Jefferson’s shoulder while he worked and would sing along when he played violin. Jefferson also (briefly) kept two grizzly bear cubs.

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Theodore Roosevelt – Basically a Zoo

Theodore Roosevelt – Basically a Zoo

Teddy Roosevelt (and his family) had an entire menagerie, reflective of his love of nature. Among their pets were at least ten horses, several types of dogs, a blue macaw named after Eli Yale, several snakes (including Emily Spinach, who belonged to his daughter Alice), a bull terrier, a zebra, five bears, and a one-legged rooster. He also had a laughing hyena that the Emperor of Ethiopia gave him as a gift, and a small bear named Jonathan Edwards. Some of these pets – like the lion cub – went to the zoo. Others had free reign of the White House.

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George W. Bush – Barney and Miss Beazley the Scottish Terriers

George W. Bush – Barney and Miss Beazley the Scottish Terriers

The Bushes had a penchant for Scottish terriers. Barney, known as the First Dog, was a descendant of a Scottie owned by a former EPA director. In 2004, he was joined in the White House by his niece, Miss Beazley. White House staff made several “Barneycam” videos of the White House web site.

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Calvin Coolidge – Billy the Pygmy Hippopotamus

Calvin Coolidge – Billy the Pygmy Hippopotamus

Coolidge and his family kept an enormous number of pets –Among them were a pair of canaries named Nip and Tuck, chow chows, a sheepdog named Calamity Jane, and Grace Coolidge’s collie, Rob Roy. Their more exotic pets included a wallaby, a duiker, a bobcat, and a pygmy hippo named Billy.

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Herbert Hoover – Two Alligators

Herbert Hoover – Two Alligators

Hoover had a number of pets, though he was mostly fond of dogs. He had nine all in all, from fox terriers to Norwegian elkhounds. But his most unusual White House pet was a pair of alligators given to his son Allan. They were usually kept in a bathtub at the White House, but they escaped easily and often, and were eventually donated to the Smithsonian Zoo.

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Theodore Roosevelt – Various Exotic Rodents

Theodore Roosevelt – Various Exotic Rodents

The Roosevelts had a particular penchant for rodents. They had a slew of guinea pigs, with names like “Admiral Dewey,” “Father O’Grady,” and “Fighting Bob Evans”. They kept a flying squirrel – probably a rescue. They also had two kangaroo rats who, like the squirrel, would often ride around in the shirt pockets of the children.

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John F. Kennedy – Charlie the Welsh Terrier

John F. Kennedy – Charlie the Welsh Terrier

The Kennedy White House had many dogs and horses – and two parakeets! But Charlie was the first and most beloved Kennedy dog. He used to swim laps in the pool with JFK and was always there to greet the President when he deplaned from Air Force One.

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Calvin Coolidge – Two Lions

Calvin Coolidge – Two Lions

Presidents are often given gifts by foreign dignitaries, though there are rules about how those gifts can be kept and stored. It’s a little more complicated when the gifts are alive, though. At some point Coolidge was given twin lion cubs from Johannesburg, South Africa. He named them Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau. They came along with a duiker, a small antelope, but we know that at least the duiker wound up at the zoo.

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Theodore Roosevelt – Josiah the Badger

Theodore Roosevelt – Josiah the Badger

On a railroad tour stop in Kansas, a 12-year-old girl offered Roosevelt a badger. He said yes, perhaps not expecting her to actually run and retrieve one. As the badger nibbled his finger, Teddy fell in love, saying “Bother politics. This last day in Kansas is the best of them all.” He wrote to his son Kermit, “He is very cunning, and I hold him in my arms and pet him.”

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Martin Van Buren – Two Tigers

Martin Van Buren – Two Tigers

Martin Van Buren was given two tiger cubs by the Sultan of Oman. He found them delightful and started making preparations to bring them into the White House to live. But Congress wasn’t having it. They confiscated the cubs and sent them to a local zoo.

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John F. Kennedy – Zsa Zsa the Rabbit

John F. Kennedy – Zsa Zsa the Rabbit

Zsa Zsa was given to the Kennedys by a Pennsylvania magician, who claimed that the chubby bunny was too fat to be pulled out of a hat. Named for Kennedy’s friend (and apparently, only his friend) Zsa Zsa Gabor, the rabbit was rumored to have a fondness for beer.

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Calvin Coolidge – Rebecca and Reuben the Raccoons

Calvin Coolidge – Rebecca and Reuben the Raccoons

Rebecca was originally sent as a gift to be part of a Thanksgiving dinner, but Grace Coolidge took a liking to her, and kept her as a pet. Reuben was meant as a companion for her, but they didn’t care for each other much. They constantly escaped, ripping up furniture and unscrewing light bulbs. For some reason, it’s now illegal to keep raccoons as pets in DC.

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Barack Obama – Bo and Sunny the Portuguese Water Dogs

Barack Obama – Bo and Sunny the Portuguese Water Dogs

Like his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama adopted a dog early on in each of his terms. They chose Portuguese Water Dogs due to their reputation for decreased shedding, which is allegedly easier on people with allergies. Since they didn’t adopt shelter dogs like they were originally hoping to, the Obamas donated to the Humane Society in honor of each pet.

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John Quincy Adams – An Alligator

John Quincy Adams – An Alligator

President Hoover’s son had alligators, but they weren’t actually the first gators in residence at the White House. The Marquis de Lafayette, who fought in the American Revolution alongside Washington, gave an alligator to Adams as a gift. Not knowing what else to do, he kept it in a tub in an unfinished White House bathroom.

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William McKinley – Washington Post the Parrot

William McKinley – Washington Post the Parrot

President McKinley had a double yellow-headed Mexican parrot that he named “Washington Post”. McKinley would often whistle the first few bars of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and the parrot would finish the song. McKinley was so proud of the bird that he made it the official White House greeter.

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John Quincy Adams – Silkworms

John Quincy Adams – Silkworms

Beside the alligator, the Adams family’s other pets were the silkworms that Adam’s wife Louisa kept. Louisa was prone to physical illness, in addition to her depression, and raising the silkworms was one of her few joys. In addition to caring for them, she harvested the silk to use in her sewing.

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Andrew Jackson – Poll the Foul-Mouthed Parrot

Andrew Jackson – Poll the Foul-Mouthed Parrot

Andrew Jackson gave an African Grey parrot to his wife Rachel as a gift. When Rachel passed away, he took care of the parrot himself. Jackson wasn’t a gentle man by any account, and apparently the bird picked up a healthy vocabulary of swear words while hanging out with Jackson. At Jackson’s funeral, the bird let loose a river of profanity so shocking that it had to be removed.

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George Washington – Foxhounds

George Washington – Foxhounds

George Washington was bent on breeding a new kind of hunting dog. His efforts led to the creation of the breed that we know today as the American Foxhound. They were bred a combination of his Black and Tan Coonhounds and a group of dogs given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought alongside him in the Revolution.

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George Washington – Royal Gift the Donkey

George Washington – Royal Gift the Donkey

Washington gave his dogs great names like “Drunkard,” “Taster,” “Tipler,” and Tipsy”. He was a little less creative with the donkey that King Charles III of Spain gave him. The poor beast was simply named “Royal Gift”.

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Bill Clinton – Socks the Cat

Bill Clinton – Socks the Cat

Socks the Cat was Chelsea Clinton’s cat. He became an instant celebrity, the subject of comics, and even a video game for Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. (The game was cancelled, but rediscovered. A successful Kickstarter is slated to finally bring the game to life.) Socks was ousted from his position by Buddy the Chocolate Lab, and never quite forgave Buddy for taking his First Pet throne.

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John Tyler – The General, a Horse

John Tyler – The General, a Horse

John Tyler loved horses, and one of his favorites was The General, who Tyler owned for all 21 years of the horse’s life. So fond was he of the horse that upon its death, Tyler buried him on his plantation, with a marker saying that in 20 years of carrying Tyler, the horse “never made a blunder. Would that his master could say the same!”

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Richard Nixon – Checkers the Dog

Richard Nixon – Checkers the Dog

Checkers didn’t actually live in the White House. So why do people talk about Checkers instead of Nixon’s other dogs? As Senator, Nixon gave a speech defending himself against accusations of misuse of campaign funds. In it, he said that one gift he received wouldn’t be returned no matter what happened – a puppy from a supporter in Texas.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt – Fala the Scottish Terrier

Franklin D. Roosevelt – Fala the Scottish Terrier

Fala was an inseparable companion for FDR. The two were so connected that Fala is included in two statues of FDR – the only First Pet so honored. At one point, Republicans accused FDR of wasting millions by sending an entire destroyer back to retrieve the dog from an island. The story was false, and FDR’s joking speech in response (pitched by Orson Welles) has gone down in history as the “Fala speech,” a classic of American political rhetoric.

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Warren Harding – Pete the Squirrel

Warren Harding – Pete the Squirrel

President Harding and his wife Florence loved animals. They had two dogs in the White House, several canaries, and Pete the Squirrel. Pete would scamper around in meetings and would eat out of peoples’ hands. Oddly enough, Harding wasn’t the only President to have a squirrel named Pete. Truman (sort of) had a Pete the Squirrel, as well.

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Harry S. Truman – Pete the Squirrel

Harry S. Truman – Pete the Squirrel

Truman famously advised, “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” But the no-nonsense war President didn’t keep dogs for long – both dogs he was given were passed along quickly. But there was a squirrel who was fond of Truman and would follow him around on walks. Reporters called the squirrel “Pete.” Whether Truman liked Pete or whether the press pushed the narrative is still sort of up in the air.

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Benjamin Harrison – Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, the Opossums

Benjamin Harrison – Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, the Opossums

In addition to his dogs, President Harrison had two opossums. He gave them to his grandchildren, but he was responsible for naming them. Reciprocity and protection were the twin pillars of the Republican policy of the day. The opossums were loved by the Harrison family, and were often given to roam the White House at will.

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William Taft – Pauline Wayne and Mooly Wooly, the Cows

William Taft – Pauline Wayne and Mooly Wooly, the Cows

Taft only kept a dog and a cow. Mooly Wooly was brought in to cut milk and butter costs so the Tafts could afford a car. When she died, her successor Pauline Wayne became a huge celebrity. The Washington Post ran over 20 stories on her in a three-year span. Her milk was sold as a souvenir. She made even more headlines when she went missing for two days – her private train car was switched to the wrong track, and she almost wound up at a slaughterhouse. 

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Woodrow Wilson – Old Ike the Ram

Woodrow Wilson – Old Ike the Ram

During World War I, everybody was expected to make changes to contribute to the war effort. For President Wilson, that included taking on a herd of sheep to keep the White House lawn low, and to generate wool to sell. Included in the flock was Old Ike, who had a penchant for chewing every cigar butt he could find – and for attacking White House staff and police.

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Lyndon B. Johnson – Beagles

Lyndon B. Johnson – Beagles

Johnson may have been notoriously profane, but his love of animals was genuine. One of the less-distressing remodels he made to the White House was to expand the dog house to what the press called a “palace.” His first pair of beagles were named Him and Her. The second pair were named Edgar and Freckles. He got told off by the press for roughhousing with Him, but he cared deeply about them, and for his collie, Blanco, and his mixed-breed dog Yuki.

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Rutherford B. Hayes – Siam the Cat

Rutherford B. Hayes – Siam the Cat

Siam was the first Siamese cat in America, a gift to Hayes from the American consul in Bangkok. Unfortunately, Siam had a hard journey over, and after several months of living with the Hayes family, she took ill. The whole family adored her, and the President asked his personal physician to look after her, but poor Siam was not long for the world. Other Siamese cats, belonging to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, had longer tenures in the White House.

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