June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

White House Pets – Companions of the White House, the First Pets

3 min read

George Washington with his dogs

There have been a lot of great men to serve as America’s president, but we can’t leave out the Presidential pets–the First Pets. There were many odd pets in the early years of America’s inception.

George Washington had thirty-six dogs, Polly the parrot, and Nelson the horse. Not three to six dogs, thirty-six (36). What I find most interesting about his large dog collection are the names that were given to these pets: Madam Moose, a Dalmatian; Vulcan, a Hound dog; Sweetlips, a Hound dog; and Scentwell, a Hound dog. Odd and quite humorous; however, he also had a collection of dogs that all shared names from a common theme, alcohol.

That’s right, because what pet collection would be complete without  alcoholic names?

George Washington with his dogs

Drunkard, Taster, Tipler, and Tipsy were all names of his Coonhounds.

Another president who had an odd pet was Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, owned a pair of Grizzly Bear cubs. Captain Zebulon Pike, while exploring the West, purchased these cubs as a birthday present for President Jefferson. He did not keep them long, because they outgrew their cages.

No doubt the bears grew up to be ferocious and scary; however, they probably weren’t as scary as the alligators which inhabited the White House. Both John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover had pet alligators. Apparently I missed the part of the speech where President Hoover finished “a chicken in every pot,” with… “and a gator in the White House!”

There were those, however, who had pets with a purpose. The White House lawn is massive. Think about it…

white house pets
Woodrow Wilson’s pet sheep “mowing the lawn.”

The White House lawn host the largest White House public event every year. In 2012, over 30,000 people showed up to participate in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. It must cost a fortune to maintain the lawn. Unless, you have pets that graze and eat lots of grass. William Taft and Woodrow Wilson both had pets that earned their keep during their stays at the White House. Williams Taft had cows that grazed the lawn, keeping the grass “cut” and provided Taft with fresh milk. Woodrow Wilson had his own set of grass grazing beast, but of the sheep variety. Not only did the sheep trim the grass, but the wool from the sheep was sold to raise money for the Red Cross.

By far, the most notorious pet owner of the Oval Office was Calvin Coolidge. While he was president, the White House was often referred to as a zoo. This wasn’t because of the activity which occurred here, but literally because there were so many animals on the grounds. President Coolidge had four cats; seven birds, two olive green birds, two canaries, one yellow bird, and one Mockingbird; and nine dogs, ranging from a sheepherder to  a bulldog.

This list of animals may not seem large enough to classify the White House as a zoo, but that is only because I listed the non-exotic animals. At one point, during his time in the White House, Coolidge was the owner of a Black Bear, a wallaby, a Duiker, thirteen Pekin Ducks, and two raccoon.

One of the raccoon, Rebecca, became a favorite of First Lady Grace Coolidge. The First Lady would take Rebecca out for walks on her chain, as if she were a dog. (Too bad she wasn’t around now with all the cute dog clothes you can buy online.)

Grace Coolidge with Rebecca the Raccoon.

Here are some interesting quotes I found from former presidents about pets.

“Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.” – Calvin Coolidge

“If you want to have a friend in Washington, you should buy a dog.” – Harry Truman