White House Pets

Historically, U.S. presidents have not avoided having pets just because their new residence has priceless furniture, irreplaceable works of art, antique rugs, and manicured lawns.  A visit to the Presidential Pets Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, and a viewing of White House Pets (2008) tells us that before Bo, Miss Beazley, and Socks several nontraditional pets lived in the White House and on the surrounding grounds.

Teddy Roosevelt and his six children kept a collection of animals at the White House and their summer house in Oyster Bay that included a hyena, a hen, a macaw, a pony, guinea pigs, lizards, and snakes.  William Taft kept a dairy cow named Pauline while president.  Caroline Kennedy also had a pony.  Calvin Coolidge’s pets included two raccoons named Rebecca and Horace.   Tad Lincoln was given two goats by his father to console him after his brother Willie died.  The goats were taught how to pull Tad and his friends around the White House grounds in a cart, but the fun subsided when the gardeners raised concerns and Nanny disappeared leaving Nanko alone and lonely in the stable.

In Margaret Truman’s White House Pets (1969), Truman says her favorite portrait in the White House was a striking painting of Grace Coolidge and Rob Roy, the family’s exquisite white collie.  Truman’s book includes a list of presidential family pets that shows the increasing popularity of dogs as the pet of choice during the 20th century.

Franklin Roosevelt was a known dog lover and was often photographed with his famous Scottish Terrier, Fala, which soon became the dog breed to have.  Fala and Roosevelt were close companions, so it wasn’t surprising that Fala was buried not far from Roosevelt in Hyde Park.  More recently, Millie (Mildred Kerr Bush), a Springer Spaniel, exposed her life as First Dog and mother in her photo-filled bestselling memoir that raised lots of money for charity.  During the last Bush administration the entertaining Barney cams gave us yet another perspective of festivities inside the White House.  Clinton paraded before the camera the family’s famous photogenic First Cat, Socks, who was traumatized when Buddy the Chocolate Lab joined the family.  These days we get to watch Bo, a big hypoallergenic Portuguese water dog romp and greet the president on the White House lawn.

How much do you know about the family pets of U.S. presidents?  (see answers below)

1.  What was the name of Caroline Kennedy’s pony?

2.  Him and Her were the names of Lyndon Johnson’s dogs.  Can you name the breed?

3.  Warren Harding had an Airedale that sat in a chair during Cabinet meetings.  What was the dog’s name?

4.  Nikita Khrushchev gave the Kennedy family a dog named Pushinka, the offspring of a Russian space dog.  Pushinka produced a litter of puppies that Kennedy referred to as what?

5.  In 1952, before he became president, Richard Nixon gave a political speech and mentioned his black and white dog named Checkers.  Name the dog’s breed.




Kimberly Sain

As a Public Services Specialist, in addition to Reference work I promote the Travel, Pets, and Lawn & Garden Neighborhoods, coordinate nature-themed programs for adults and families, and serve on the Big Read planning committee. My interests include exploring new travel destinations, National Parks, Alaska, hiking trails in Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas, birding, Sandhill crane migration, Monarch waystations, Kansas native plants, citizen science activities, volunteer work as a certified Kansas Master Naturalist, and reading essays about the natural environment. Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country is my all-time favorite novel.