President Wilson’s sheep graze on the White House lawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kennedy children check out Macaroni the pony.

By JEANNIE EMSER SCHULTZ
For 109 years our nation has celebrated National Be Kind to Animals Week, (this year it took place from May 5 through 11) and, according to worldpopulationreview.com, that ongoing American kindness translates to the U.S. enjoying the world’s largest pet ownership (surpassing #2 China, even though China has five times our population).
In January ’24, “Forbes Advisor” reported 66 percent of U.S. households own a pet: with dogs taking first place (65.1 million households); cats (46.5 million households); fish (11.1 million households). “Forbes” also noted the largest percentage of current pet owners are Millennials (33 percent), then Gen X (25 percent) and Baby Boomers (24 percent).
Some of America’s most famous pets have resided in our most famous

President Hayes’ pet opossum.

household…the White House. High profile presidential pets included Caroline Kennedy’s Macaroni the pony and George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s Millie (subject of First Lady Barbara’s best-selling book about their English Springer Spaniel).
Most recently President Biden’s German Shepherds, Major and Commander, were banished from the White House after biting incidents (leading “USA Today” to call Major the “Biter-in-Chief”). But Biden’s dogs weren’t the first presidential pets who behaved badly. In an odd historical parallel, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s German Shepherd (also named Major) had to be rehomed after “tearing the pants of the British prime minister at the first state dinner FDR hosted in 1933.”
Another pet sent packing after an international incident was President Teddy Roosevelt’s bulldog Pete, after it bit the French Ambassador. And the story goes when

President Coolidge’s pet raccoon “Rebecca” with the First Lady, Grace Coolidge.

President Andrew Jackson died, his foul-mouthed pet African Grey parrot Poll was whisked from the funeral room, according to the presiding Reverend, after Poll “let loose perfect gusts of ‘cuss words.’”
The “first” White House pets came courtesy of the “first” president, George Washington. An avid rider and fox hunter, Washington brought a stable of horses and hunting hounds and is credited with assisting in the development of the American Foxhound breed.
Washington’s successor, Thomas Jefferson, opted for mockingbirds and two bear cubs as pets. Other unusual presidential pets included an alligator and silkworms (John Quincy Adams); an elephant and eagle (James Buchanan) and goats (Benjamin Harrison, William Henry Harrison and Abraham Lincoln).
While Congress usually has trouble making decisions, it was united in forcing President Martin Van Buren to send two tiger cubs (gifted by the Sultan of Oman) to a zoo, rather than house them at the executive mansion. President Woodrow Wilson

The Clinton’s cat Socks at the White House briefing room podium.

found a novel pet solution to lower groundskeeping costs during World War I. He brought a flock of sheep to trim the White House grounds, including his famous tobacco-chewing ram, Old Ike.
Besides Macaroni the pony, the Kennedys enjoyed a menagerie of birds, hamsters, a rabbit, cat and dogs. Their pooch Pushinka (a gift from Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev) was a pup of Strelka, one of the first dogs to be shot into space and return alive. The Secret Service first checked Pushinka for electronic bugs before allowing her into the White House. Pushinka later birthed a litter the president called “pupniks.”
Hunter/naturalist President Teddy Roosevelt’s White House “zoo” included a bear, pony, hyena, guinea pigs, birds and Josiah the badger, a gift from a little girl. Roosevelt’s daughter Ethel, 12, wrote in 1903 that the badger “is always amusing us with his antics, shredding furniture with his sharp claws or chasing the gardener up a tree. Father just throws his head back and laughs with his booming laugh.” When Josiah started biting visitors’ ankles, however, it meant a trip to the zoo.
But when it came to White House menageries, Calvin Coolidge wins hands down. It began with a racoon, a gift from a constituent who intended the animal to be eaten for Thanksgiving. Instead, Coolidge kept it as a pet, walking “Rebecca” on a leash around the White House grounds. The Coolidges were also gifted with exotic animals from foreign leaders, including a pygmy hippo, a wallaby, a pair of lion cubs and Pekin ducks (which Mrs. Coolidge attempted to raise in the bathroom).Many of those creatures were later donated to the National Zoo.
Rebecca wasn’t the only animal that was a prospective meal-turned-pet. Presented with a live turkey intended for his 1863 Christmas dinner, President Lincoln’s son Tad, 10, quickly adopted it, named him Jack and taught him to follow Tad around the White House. Christmas Eve Tad convinced his father to spare the turkey. Lincoln issued “an order of reprieve” for Jack, inaugurating what would become a tradition to pardon future White House turkeys.
One pet that spiked controversy was FDR’s Scottish Terrier Fala (whose popularity catapulted the Scotty breed). FDR was rarely without Fala, taking him on a sea trip to the Aleutian Islands in 1944. A false rumor began that Fala was accidentally left on an island, requiring the Navy to send a ship to retrieve him. The next presidential campaign, Republicans accused FDR of spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars to retrieve Fala. The President defended Fala in a famous speech. “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, my wife or sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog Fala. Well, of course I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”
In the case of Lyndon B. Johnson, his beagles, Him and Her, weren’t the problem, the President was. When a photo ran in “Life” magazine showing him picking up one of the beagles by its ears to encourage it to bark for guests, public reaction was swift. Editorials, letters and calls swamped the White House.
Presidential dogs seem to steal most of the limelight, however felines have also had their day with several presidents, including Lincoln (who even rescued three kittens while visiting General Grant during the Civil War). President Rutherford Hayes became the proud owner of the first Siamese cat to arrive in the U.S. (a gift from an American diplomat in Bangkok). (Hayes also had a pet opossum.) Presidential daughters of Ford and Carter would also own a Siamese during their White House years.President Bill Clinton’s tuxedo cat Socks garnered more press than his Lab Buddy. The two animals didn’t get along, prompting Clinton to remark, “I did better with the Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis than I have with Socks and Buddy!”
Of all the presidents, only three were noted as not being White House pet owners: James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump (although one story recounts that when Johnson discovered mice in his bedroom, he decided to feed and keep them rather than exterminate).