Top 10 Presidential Pets: The Nation’s First Dogs and Cats
Nearly every president of the U.S. has had at least one pet. Animals provide us with affection and comfort, and many presidents have enjoyed the companionship of the animal world. Some presidents have merely enjoyed the idea of pets because of their uniqueness or as part of their household wealth. George Washington had 36 hounds and a stable full of horses. Lewis and Clark brought two bear cubs to Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Van Buren had tiger cubs. Perhaps most interesting was the alligator that John Quincy Adams kept in a bathtub. But the most popular pets, as one might expect, are dogs and cats.
Here are 10 of some of the most well-known presidential pets. These dogs and cats have been considered as part of the first family, and have garnered a certain amount of fame in their own right:
- Bo: When Barack Obama won his bid for the presidency, he promised his daughters that they could choose a puppy. One of the concerns is that Malia Obama (10) has allergies. The family chose a Portuguese Water Dog with encouragement from Senator Ted Kennedy, who presented the first family with the dog as a gift. The name comes from the fact that the children call Michelle Obama’s father “Diddley” after Bo Diddley. Some were put off by the fact that the Obamas chose a purebred dog, rather than adopting from a shelter. However, the President did give a generous donation to the District of Columbia Humane Society.
- Spot: George W. Bush always had a faithful friend in his Springer spaniel, Spot. Spot was the puppy of another first pet, Millie, who lived at the White House while George H.W. Bush was president. Spot was a lively dog who was finally put to sleep in 2004, at the age of 15. Spot had many health problems, but she tried to remain pleasing anyway. The Bush family had other pets, as well. Barney the Scottish terrier was a resident of the White House, and the president gave his wife, Laura another Scottish terrier, Miss Beazley as a birthday gift. They also had India the cat. Ernie, another cat, was too wild to live at the White House and was given to a California family.
- Socks: This cat belonged to Bill Clinton and was a famous face around the White House. Indeed, Socks is often thought to be the most photographed presidential cat in history. Even among presidential pets, Socks is one of the most popular. The Clinton family gave Socks to one of the president’s former secretaries in 2001 when he left office. Socks died earlier this year, after a bout with liver cancer. Socks managed to live to a quite old age — nearly 20 years old.
- Rex: Ronald Reagan’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel made one of his early public appearances as the president lit the National Christmas Tree in 1985. Rex was a gift to Nancy Reagan from conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley, who owned Rex’s mother, kept Rex’s brother Fred. Rex remained at the White House throughout Reagan’s tenure. He was famous for having a lavish dog house, and for a tonsillectomy. He died when the Reagan family had to have him euthanized due to an enlarged heart. The Reagan family also had another dog, Lucky, who was too rambunctious for the White House and kept at Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo.
- Misty Malarky Ying Yang: Originally, Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, received a dog names Grits as a gift. However, it didn’t take long for Grits to be impeached and given back. The reason behind the return isn’t known, but it is speculated that Grits might not have had a very good temper. Rumors swirled that Grits upset Amy’s cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang. Misty Malarky Ying Yang (say that 10 times fast), a Siamese cat, was never replaced. The Christian Science Monitor did a mock interview with Misty at one point. This was a very popular and intriguing first cat.
- Liberty: This Golden Retriever was Gerald Ford’s beloved bet. The full name of this registered purebred was Honor’s Foxfire Liberty Hume. Liberty was gift from Ford’s daughter Susan Ford. Liberty was photographed regularly in various famous places, especially the Oval Office and the swimming pool at Camp David. Liberty had a litter of puppies while at the White House, and Ford kept one, Misty. Liberty was famous for “signing” pictures of herself — with the help from a rubber stamp in the shape of a paw print. Rumors are that Ford would end conversations by giving Liberty a signal that would send her wagging her tail to be petted by guests, providing a natural break, and a way to transition to the end of a conversation or change the subject.
- Checkers: Richard Nixon’s dog was made famous during the “Checkers speech.” At the time, Nixon was running for vice president on Dwight Eisenhower’s ticket. Questions about his use of campaign donations were raised (even though what he was doing was legal at the time), and people began to wonder whether he wasn’t as anti-corruption as he said. Nixon made a television address to appeal to the people, and in it he referenced his American Cocker Spaniel. He said that he had received Checkers as a gift, and he wasn’t giving the dog back. The speech actually swayed public opinion in his favor, and he remained on the ticket. Checkers never made it to the White House as a first pet, having died in 1964, but visited often while Nixon was vice president. Nixon’s other pets included a poodle named Vicky, Pasha the the terrier and King Timahoe the Irish setter.
- Him and Her: Lyndon Johnson had two beagles un-creatively referred to as Him and Her. These two dogs were the most well-known of Johnson’s pets. They were photographed often, as the president enjoyed playing with them. Him sired a litter of puppies, and Johnson’s daughter, Luci, decided to keep two of the puppies, who were named Freckles and Kim. Her died after swallowing a stone, and Him was hit by car when he ran into the road while chasing a squirrel. Kim moved out when Luci did, while Freckles remained at the White House. Johnson also had a mutt named Edgar (as in J.), another mutt called Yuki and some hamsters and lovebirds. Clearly, the Johnson family loved animals, and they were unhappy when their animal pals passed away.
- Fala: Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved his Scottish terrier, Fala. He was a gift from his cousin, Margaret Suckley. Fala provided good companionship for FDR, and he took the dog everywhere. He was the only person allowed to feed Fala, after he was hospitalized due to intestinal problems brought on by the fact that everyone in the White House kept giving the dog unsuitable foods. The famous “Fala Speech” served as an inspiration for Nixon’s “Checkers Speech.” Rumors had been circulating by Republicans that Fala had been left in the Aleutian Islands and that FDR sent a destroyer to bring him back. FDR made fun of these stories, calling them ridiculous, and received at outpouring of support afterward.
- Tiger: “Silent Cal”, president Calvin Coolidge, was a true animal lover. Tiger was one of the first Coolidge cats to live in the White House, and he was often worn draped about the president’s neck. Once, Tiger escaped all the way to Lincoln memorial. Sometimes, the family called him “Tige”. Unfortunately, Tiger eventually ran away. However, there were plenty of other Coolidge pets, since they had several more cats, in addition to birds, dogs, a raccoon, lion cubs and more. Some of the more exotic pets (like the bears, lions and wallaby) ended up in the zoo.