Over the last 200 or so years, the White House has been home to many people of different backgrounds, creeds, and lifestyles. However, it wasn’t just the various staffers or the presidents themselves making history. Some of the most notable and influential inhabitants were actually the critters that helped make up the presidential families.
From shaping public image to actually engaging in official duties, the presidential pets have definitely left their paw—and talon—marks on American history.
Like many parents, Barack and Michelle Obama promised their daughters that they could get a puppy. Though, in their case, they had to move into the White House first. Because their eldest daughter has severe allergies, they needed a hypoallergenic breed. Shortly after his inauguration, Obama made good on the promise and welcomed two fluffy Portuguese Water Dogs—Bo and Sunny—into the presidential mansion.
One of Bo’s littermates went to Senator Ted Kennedy, and the entire litter was named “Hope and Change” in honor of Obama’s electoral victory.
George W. Bush is one of the bigger animal lovers to hold the office of president. While he had many pets, the most famous were his two Scottish Terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley. Barney was particularly mischievous and loved playing with volleyballs and golf balls throughout the White House.
Both Scotties regularly appeared in short White House films, affectionately called Barneycams.
After Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s first dog grew too large for the White House, the Reagans welcomed Rex into their home. Named after Rex Scouten, the White House Chief Usher, Rex was a small Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Rex participated in many official presidential duties and even helped throw the switch that lit the National Christmas Tree.
The Reagans loved Rex so much they had an elaborate dog house built. This mini-mansion featured framed portraits of both Ronald and Nancy, as well as heavy red drapes.
The 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford, had a nationally beloved Golden Retriever, appropriately named Liberty. Throughout the Ford administration, Liberty appeared in photos as she swam in the pool at Camp David or dashed across the White House’s South Lawn. Sometimes, Liberty would even autograph these photos with a rubber stamp of her paw print.
Rumor has it that if Ford wanted to end a conversation in the Oval Office, he would signal Liberty to run to the guest with her tail wagging, creating a natural break.
An assortment of pets called the White House home during the Nixon administration, including a Yorkshire terrier, an Irish Setter, and a poodle. However, of all of these furry friends, the most famous was undoubtedly Checkers the Cocker spaniel.
Checkers was a key figure in Richard Nixon’s political career and even inspired one of his most well-known speeches. In the televised “Checkers speech,” Nixon denied allegations of impropriety, stating that there was one gift he received that he had no intention of returning: his beloved Cocker spaniel.
Lyndon B. Johnson had a full menagerie of pets, including hamsters, lovebirds, and several dogs. But the animal that stood out the most from this zoo of creatures was Yuki. Because so many lovable dogs miss out on great homes, there has been a big push for adopting rescues in recent years. The Johnson family was ahead of the times after adopting Yuki from a Texas gas station.
Yuki had an incredible personality, charming everyone he met. President Johnson would often join Yuki in a duet of howls for White House Guests.
Presidential pets have had some truly legendary names, but the most impressive by far belongs to Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier. Often called Fala, this little scamp once starred in an MGM movie about his day-to-day life and even made appearances in political cartoons.
FDR also adopted a former police dog named Major, who was a bit more of a troublemaker. The German shepherd once bit the U.K. Prime Minister and had to stay at the Roosevelts’ private home for a time.
If you think Bush or Reagan had a lot of pets, you must not have heard about Calvin Coolidge. The 30th president of the United States cared for no less than 43 animals, including 13 ducks, a wallaby, a pygmy hippopotamus, and many others. However, when it comes to Coolidge’s presidential pet, the star of the show was Rob Roy, his adored white collie.
With his gentle nature and regal appearance, Rob Roy regularly made an impression on the public as he led the president to the Oval Office every morning.
Though the first two presidents had pets, Thomas Jefferson was the first to have one live in the White House. Birds had always been Jefferson’s favorite animals, and he had a particular interest in mockingbirds. Over the years, the president had at least four mockingbirds in his family.
The one that left the biggest impact on the White House was Dick. Jefferson hung Dick’s cage among roses and geraniums, regularly allowing the bird to fly around the offices. Dick would even follow Jefferson to his chamber at night, hopping up the stairs alongside the president.
George Washington had a wide range of pooches with some truly impressive names, like Madame Moose, Drunkard, and Sweet Lips. Washington was a huge dog lover, but not in the way most of us are today. The first president was an avid fox hunter and loved the utility of his hounds.
However, he felt that his hunting dogs were simply not fast enough. Washington bred a group of French hounds with his other dogs, leading to the creation of the American foxhound breed. Down the road, the American foxhound would become the state dog of Virginia.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information