Since George Washington, almost every American president and First Family has had a lovable pet with whom they could weave a relatable image in the public imagination. There were some exceptions, though. Thomas Jefferson had bear cubs, and John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator. But plenty of less dangerous animals shimmied their way onto the most valuable patch of real estate in the United States.
Rebecca was President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Coolidge's leashed and beloved pet raccoon. Before Rebecca got her name and esteemed position as White House pet, she was destined for the Thanksgiving table. But the First Family saved her, and she made it into the history books with a picture at the 1927 Easter Egg Roll. They also kept a donkey, goose, lion cub, wallaby, Pygmy hippo, and a bobcat.
President Lyndon B. Johnson had a pair of beautiful beagles. Named Him and Her, these hounds gained particular fame when they appeared in a 1964 edition of the iconic Life Magazine. LBJ invited criticism when he was photographed pulling his canine companions up by the ears. Him managed to sire puppies either way, and President Johnson's daughter fell in love with two of them, Freckles and Kim.
In addition to fathering six children, President Theodore Roosevelt's White House was a veritable menagerie. Ol' Teddy kept the stock standard cats and dogs. But he also had badgers (Josiah), birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, a parrot (Eli Yale), and a pony, to name a few. When son Archie was ill, his brother Quentin plopped the pony on the White House elevator to buoy his sibling's spirits. Many of the animals are featured in portraits.
President Herbert Hoover had a few dogs, but his adopted opossum, Billy, garnered the most attention. Billy casually strolled onto the Pennsylvania Avenue residence and went from homeless stray to mascot. Fun fact—he inherited Rebecca the Racoon's little pen from President Coolidge's tenure. Hoover wasn't the only president to have opossums. President Benjamin Harrison kept two named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, a nod to Republican politics.
Macaroni has to be one of the best pony names of all time. The Kennedy children, John and Caroline, came from wealth, so their White House was filled with horses. Jackie Kennedy was an avid equestrienne, and her equine pets brought her great comfort and joy. In addition, Irish politicians gifted the family a pony named Leprechaun, and the president of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, sent them a horse by the name of Sardar.
Though they never received official names, President Woodrow Wildon's herd of sheep is worth mentioning for their contribution to the White House's war efforts. When World War I led to a general belt-tightening, sheep from Maryland kept the property's grass neat and trim. They also created quite the pastoral scene and grazed for about two years. Each state received some of the herd's valuable wool for a Red Cross War Fund fundraising auction.
President Dwight Eisenhower received an elephant from the Republic of Congo's Prime Minister. Eisenhower thought the elephant disliked carrots about as much as his grandkids did. Dzimbo ended up in the Washington Zoo. President James Buchanan was also gifted elephants by a foreign leader. The King of present-day Thailand sent a herd of tusked giants to the 15th American Commander in Chief.
President Taft had a pet Holstein cow by the name of Pauline between 1909 and 1913. She supplied the president and his household with milk and butter, and there's a picture of her grazing with the old Executive Office Building in the background. Pauline had a predecessor, "Mooly Wooly," who died from excessive oat-eating. President Harrison also had a cow.
Bo was the Obamas' treasured and adorable Portuguese Water Dog, whose addition to the family came with much anticipation and fanfare. He was a gift for the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, and photographers snapped him everywhere from the presidential limousine to the East Colonnade. Unfortunately, Bo had cancer and passed on in 2021.
Before soon-to-be-famous Willow Biden, many cats graced the halls of the White House with their distinctive presence. There was Dixie and Tabby Lincoln—Abe Lincoln was crazy about cats— Socks Clinton, Misty Malarky Ying Yang Carter, and India Bush, to name a few. Willow is a tabby cat Dr. Biden met on the campaign trail, and their instant connection paved the way for President Biden to become the 11th president to welcome a feline to the Executive Mansion.
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