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White House Has History of
Housing Popular Pets

Although they've never appeared on any ticket, presidential pets have often been the most popular White House residents. Nearly 400 pets have called 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home, including many that were stabled there in the early days of the presidency.

The presidential love affair with animals dates back to George Washington, who was devoted to his horse, Nelson. John Quincy Adams kept an alligator on the grounds, and Thomas Jefferson's administration welcomed a pet bear.

The Lincoln White House was a menagerie of rabbits, turkeys, horses and goats. But Theodore Roosevelt wins the prize for pet variety, hosting more animals than any other president before or since. Roosevelt and his six children shared a deep affection for animals, and their collection included dogs, bears, lizards, guinea pigs, a badger, a blue macaw, chickens, a barn owl, rabbits, a pony and a pig named Maude.

Many presidential pets were gifts from visiting dignitaries. Such was the case with Rebecca, a raccoon, presented to Calvin Coolidge, who built a special home for her and walked her by leash on the White House grounds.

With the advent of more popular media, the role White House pets have played in presidential lives as well as in history has become more apparent. Fala, Franklin Roosevelt's Scottish terrier, is remembered for being present when Winston Churchill and the president signed the Atlantic Charter in 1941 aboard the USS Augusta. Fala was also the subject of the first presidential pet biography, a tradition continued by first lady Barbara Bush in her book about the Bush's springer spaniel, Millie, and Hillary Clinton in her book about Socks the cat and Buddy, the president's chocolate Labrador retriever.

As children, folks in my generation became familiar with the many pets in the Kennedy household. We remember Macaroni the pony, a gift to Caroline from Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Macaroni shared the spotlight with a host of dogs, rabbit and guinea pigs.

Political pets also have been used as political ploys. Herbert Hoover opened his home to a German shepherd named King Tut on the suggestion of an adviser who thought the dog would enhance Hoover's image with the public. And when Lyndon Johnson was photographed holding his dogs by the ears, the Republican leadership in Congress seized on it and predicted it would irreparably damage Johnson's political career.

Not only do presidential pets serve to humanize their owners to the general public, but according to some reports, they have played a major role in reducing stress and serving as listening posts for the commander in chief in challenging times.

That's the great thing about animals. They don't care about our politics or whether we can balance the budget.

As they have sat at presidential feet in the Oval Office or on presidential laps in the White House living quarters, just imagine the history they have heard!


Authored by Mary Paulsell.
Mary is a board member for Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary. You can contact her at mp2mp@aol.com.

For more information about Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary, please call Susan Hatfield at 445-1680, Jim Johnson at 445-4177 or email info@htsanctuary.com.

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