With Presidents Day approaching, there is an interest in the ways that our presidents relax and enjoy family time. Eisenhower played golf and painted landscapes, Reagan rode horses and Obama played basketball. But, many of our past presidents also enjoyed down time with a first family pet.
During the first decades of the 1900s, the White House was full of pets. President William McKinley owned an exotic Mexican yellow-headed parrot. President Teddy Roosevelt, a Rough Rider and big game hunter who decorated the State Dining Room with his taxidermy hunting trophies, brought pets to the White House. The Roosevelts kept owls, lizards, roosters, badgers, guinea pigs, snakes, raccoons, hyenas, ponies and a macaw named Eli Yale at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
William Taft brought the last cow, the most common US Presidential pet at the time, to the White House. President Wilson let sheep graze on the White House lawn along with a tobacco-chewing ram named Old Ike. Not to be outdone, President Calvin Coolidge maintained a mini-zoo at the White House with many breeds of dog and various canaries, geese and mockingbirds. Exotic pets came to the White House as gifts from foreign dignitaries such as a wallaby, pigmy hippo, bear and lion cubs. The Roosevelts, the Coolidges, and the Kennedys had a great many — nearly 25 — pets.
Some of the most interesting presidential pets at the White House since the middle of the 1900s followed in the paw-steps of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s faithful companion named Fala, a black Scottish terrier. Fala traveled with Roosevelt on trips abroad and was often photographed by the press. He did tricks and entertained the President, diplomats, and others during the period before and during World War II.
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Fala resembled Miss Beazley, another Scottish Terrier that arrived at the White House in January 2005 during George W. Bush’s time in office. Miss Beazley was a birthday present for First Lady Laura Bush. Like her daughter-in-law, First Lady Barbara Bush also had a dog in the White House, a springer spaniel named Millie. In 1992, Millie “penned” a New York Times non-fiction bestseller entitled “Millie’s Book as Dictated to Barbara Bush,” describing presidential life.
In terms of animal vigor, Teddy Roosevelt’s pony Algonquin not only took a ride in a White House elevator but rivaled Caroline Kennedy’s pony named Macaroni, a gift from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Macaroni was one of many pet gifts that the Kennedy children received during their father’s term.
In 1960, Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union gave Caroline Kennedy a 6-month old white mixed breed dog named Pushinka (“Fluffy”) as noted on the dog’s Russian passport, who had gone into space on Sputnik 2.
The Clintons had a dog and a cat. President Obama had two large Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny. In 2009, Bo was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy who helped Obama keep a promise to his young daughters that if he won the 2008 election, they would get a puppy.
When it comes to pet names, President Johnson had two beagles whose names were hard to forget. The pair were national celebrities, the focus of press photos and magazine articles, lived in a newly redesigned dog house, and had the run of the Johnson White House. The beagles were named simply “Him” and “Her.”