A historical view of US presidential pets

The tradition of U.S. Presidents owning pets started with first President, George Washington. Washington owned horses, dogs (mostly hounds), a parrot and a donkey.

Only once did the U.S. President go petless – Chester A. Arthur (21st President). Scholars are mixed on Franklin Pierce (14th President) – some say he had seven small Oriental dogs and two birds, and some say no pets.

It was a family affair for John F. Kennedy (35th President), who had his children’s ponies, dogs, birds, a rabbit, hamsters, a cat and his wife’s horse for family pets. Abraham Lincoln (16th President) had a variety of pets for his family – a pig, dogs, goats, ponies, a rabbit, a turkey and cats. Theodore Roosevelt (26th President) had his share of family pets including horses, dogs, a macaw, a badger, guinea pigs, a one-legged rooster and some of the only snakes at the White House. Benjamin Harrison (23rd President) had to chase his son’s pet goat down Pennsylvania Avenue when it took off with his grandkids in a cart.

Some Presidents received pets as gifts from other nations. John Quincy Adams (6th President) had a pet alligator courtesy of the Marquis de Lafayette. Adams also tops the list for weirdest pet – silkworms. Martin Van Buren (8th President) received two tiger cubs from the Sultan of Oman. In addition to his own bobcat, donkey, dogs, cats, birds and two raccoons, Calvin Coolidge (30th President) also received lion cubs, a wallaby, a pygmy hippo, and a bear from other countries. And the biggest gift of all – James Buchanan’s herd of elephants from the King of Siam (15th President).

Only one kept the nation’s bird as a pet – Buchanan also had a pair of bald eagles and a Newfoundland dog.

Current Presidents opted for less exotic pets – mostly dogs and cats. The last farm animal at the White House was William Taft’s pet cow (27th President). Although, George W. Bush (43rd President) had a pet Longhorn at his Texas ranch. Bush’s English Springer Spaniel, two Scottish Terriers and cat lived at the White House. Bill Clinton (42nd President) came to the White House with a cat, and added a Labrador Retriever. Barack Obama (44th President) was elected petless, but gave his daughters a dog for moving to the White House.

For more on “First Pets,” there’s even a Presidential Pet Museum in Williamsburg, Va.

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