America’s interesting history of White House pets


By Dr. Jill Biden via Twitter

Dr. Jill Biden with dogs Major (left) and Champ (right).

 As Donald Trump’s time as president comes to a close, many people are looking forward to having dogs in the White House once again. President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to assume the presidency on January 20, and he’s taking two companions with him: his German Shepherds Champ, 12, and Major, 2. 

   For many, Champ and Major represent a return to a beloved tradition – President Trump is the first president in more than a century to not have a dog in the White House, and only the second president in history to have no pets. The United States’ longstanding history of First Dogs dates all the way back to George Washington, who had at least seven dogs while in office. 

   Over the years, countless presidential pets have achieved celebrity status and even served roles in their owners’ administrations. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dog, Fala, received so much fan mail that he had his own secretary to sort through it all. Herbert Hoover’s dog King Tut campaigned alongside Hoover in his run for president in 1929. Bill Clinton’s cat Socks was a beloved figure of the Clinton presidency, who even had his own website and was featured in the children’s book Socks Goes to Washington: The Diary of America’s First Cat

   Not all presidents have settled for ordinary dogs and cats, however. The White House has been home to a menagerie of unique animals, including goats, opossums, silkworms, a raccoon named Rebecca, and, briefly, two tiger cubs. Under Woodrow Wilson, a flock of nearly 50 sheep lived at the White House and trimmed its lawn, while Herbert Hoover and Benjamin Harrison owned opossums. Both Harrison and John Quincy Adams kept alligators while in office, a pet that seems almost normal compared to Calvin Coolidge’s hippo, named William Johnson Hippopotamus. In addition to the hippo, Coolidge also owned a bobcat, two lion cubs, a donkey, a variety of birds, and several dogs.

    Far more impressive than any of these crazy animals are the pets owned by Theodore Roosevelt while he was in office. He had more than 30 pets, from guinea pigs to a barn owl. The menagerie included Bill the lizard, Maude the pig, Josiah the badger, a bear named Jonathan, and a one-legged rooster. He even had a hyena named Bill, given to him as a gift from emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. 

   Although we probably won’t be seeing any hyenas, alligators, or hippos in the White House next year, we can all look forward to welcoming America’s newest First Dogs into office this coming January.