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Pets in the White House

© 2009-2012

Published in the May/June 2009 issue of The Pampered Pet magazine.

Presidents and pets have been around since George Washington first took office back in 1789. Our first president was responsible for having the White House built, but never saw its completion and Washington resided in Mount Vernon, New York along with his numerous foxhounds, horses and a parrot.

While dogs top the list as the most visible form of president-pooch companionship, Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt are known for housing veritable zoos at the White House during their terms.

A foreign dignitary hoping to impress the Commander in Chief could send over an animal representative to remind the president of his or her generosity. The Coolidge clan received presents of lion cubs, wallabies, a bear, and a pygmy hippo—and they were transferred to the Washington Zoo. Dogs were made comfortable in the White House as Coolidge favored collies, terriers, an Airedale, sheepdog, bulldog, and police dog. There were a few birds, an alley cat and a bobcat named Smokey and Ebenezer a donkey. Rebecca the raccoon was originally intended to be a Christmas dinner but became a favorite pet and our 30th President spent many an evening walking her on a leash.

In 1901 Theodore Roosevelt, boasted a menagerie of large animals which were confined to his Long Island home. But this father of six children kept an assortment of smaller pets on the grounds. Algonquin, a calico pony, was once allowed to ride up in the White House elevator to visit the young Archie Roosevelt in his sick bed.
Hoosier president Benjamin Harrison [1889-1893] was fond of giving his grandchildren numerous pets, including a goat named His Whiskers. The goat often pulled the children around the White House lawn on a cart. Back in those pre-limousine days the President was awaiting the arrival of his carriage ride when His Whiskers and cart, containing three grandchildren, took off running down Pennsylvania Avenue. Harrison followed, brandishing his cane and waving his top hat as he tried to get the wayward goat to stop.

Warren Harding’s presidential term lasted from 1921 to 1923. Not only was his stay at the White House brief, but he was considered one of the least popular presidents. Fortunately, he had the Airedale Laddie Boy to provide some public relations boosting. This pampered pooch had his own hand-carved cabinet chair and often sat on the front steps of the White House to greet delegations. The dog delivered the newspaper to the president and also helped fetch golf balls from the White House lawn when the president practiced his game. President Harding threw a birthday party for his faithful pet – a four-tier concoction of frosted dog biscuits. Laddie Boy even had his own servant who later stayed on through the Coolidge administration where he was given the title Master of the White House Hounds.

In 1961 when John F. Kennedy first entered the White House, the only pet to accompany the family was a Welsh terrier named Charlie. But our youngest president was happy to oblige his two animal-loving children with a nice variety of cats, birds, dogs, and rabbit. Lyndon B. Johnson gave little Caroline a pony named Macaroni, who was allowed to graze on the White House lawn. At the age of only four, the First Daughter was expected to unsaddle, water, and lead her horse to the stable stall. The children’s adoration of animals was hereditary as Jacqueline Kennedy had grown up around dogs and horses and had even raised her own 4-H calf.

While President Barack Obama has only been in the White House for a short time, he has publicly promised his daughters, Malia and Sasha, the gift of a dog. Due to eldest daughter Malia’s allergies, the choice has been narrowed down to two breeds that hypoallergenic people can handle: Labrador-Poodle mix or a Portuguese Water dog. As President Obama publicly stated to a grade school class in Chicago about the topic of the First Dog: “You know, if they do their business, if they’ve got some poop - you got to make sure that you’re not just leaving it there.”

Who cleans up after the presidential pet? In the case of 43rd President, George W. Bush, that man was usually his personal aide, Blake Gottesman, who attended to Scottish Terrier Barney’s needs.

The Bush family is known for being fond of dogs, and First Dog Millie Bush who lived in the White House from 1989 – 1993, often accompanied “The Prez” [whom she was allowed to call according to the book she authored, “Millie’s Book”] to the Oval Office and sat in on morning briefings. At 6 a.m. First Lady Barbara Bush walked the dog around the South Lawn and gave Millie breakfast. The English Springer spaniel often hid rawhide bones behind the curtains in the allegedly haunted Lincoln Bedroom. She was also a natural hunter and eagerly chased after squirrels, rodents, and birds—sometimes a little too successfully.

The chief usher, Gary Walters, noticed Millie’s weight gain caused by staff members giving her treats.

And on the subject of weighty matters, the heaviest United States President, 330-pounder William Taft [1909-1913] had a cow on hand to provide him with fresh milk. Pauline was looked after by a man whose job it was to bring her milk into the White House kitchen. The valued cow was even allowed to sleep in the garage next to the president’s cars and during the day she was seen grazing upon the White House lawn—the last cow to do so.

For those of you who love animals and history and would like to see more in person, the Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia is a fascinating place to visit. toll free number: 800-588-4327

Whether the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have two or four legs, whether they can fly by themselves instead of in airplanes, or if they sleep during the day instead of at night, animal companions are there for people no matter how stressful their job.

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