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Presidential Pets

The Dogs, Cats, and Other Animals of The White House

By Ryan Gellis. October 26, 2012 | See Comments

Presidential Pets

An overview of the most interesting and notable presidential pets in America's history.

Despite the glut of information regarding politics, engaged citizens are still tragically under informed when it comes to one of the top issues: pets of the White House.

If anyone could use an animal companion it is the President of The United States. While presidency usually comes with early gray hairs and extra wrinkles, pet ownership has been linked to better mental and physical health and even a longer lifespan. Whether you're a history buff, political science junkie or just an interested pet parent, check out the history of presidential pets.

Almost every one of our forty-three presidents has had a pet. It was a tradition that began with George Washington’s seven dogs (plus a donkey and a horse.) When our country was founded in 1776 being a pet parent was not as popular as it is today, though owning a farm animal was much more prevalent. Suffice to say that presidential pets were often times more exotic than cats and dogs.

The First Pet Facts

The Most Pets: No president had as many pets as Calvin Coolidge.  Of his 26 non-human family members only 12 were dogs.

The Strangest Pets: John Quincy Adams had an American alligator and Herbert Hoover, looking to upstage, was the parent of two crocodiles. Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson had two bear cubs.

Weirdest Pet Trick: Andrew Jackson taught his parrot to swear.

Most Exotic Pets: Martin Van Buren briefly owned two tiger cubs.

Most Presidential Pet: The first President to own a bald eagle was James Buchanan, our fifteenth.

An Emerging Pet Trend: Every president since Grover Cleveland had either a dog or cat as a primary pet in the White House. Beginning with Ronald Reagan every president has had an official “First Dog of The United States.”

The Most Notable Presidential Dogs

A Dog that Saved a Presidency: Take, Checkers, for instance, who was Richard Nixon’s cocker spaniel in 1952, when then Senator Richard Nixon was running for Vice-President under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nixon was accused of using campaign money for personal use and was on the verge of resignation when he came up with the now infamous “Checkers Speech.” Nixon went on TV before the largest home audience to date and delivered an emotionally gripping speech where he said the only gift he received was "a little cocker spaniel dog ... sent all the way from Texas. And our little girl named it Checkers."  The crowd loved it and the rest was history.

A Dog Worth Going to War Over: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s favorite dog, Fala, a Scottish terrier, was famous for traveling everywhere with his master.  So famous that he had his own press secretary and political opponents. In 1944 Republicans accused the three term president of forgetting Fala in the Aleutian Islands and then turning around Navy vessels at the cost of millions of tax-payer dollars to retrieve his pooch. While the accusation has been widely discredited, the President’s love for his dog was never questioned.

The Dog with the Most Press: But in terms of famous first dogs no one took to the camera as readily as Laddie Boy, Warren G. Harding’s airedale terrier. Laddie boy was the first presidential pet to receive regular spots in national newspapers. He was famous for attending cabinet meetings in his own custom-made chair and holding fake press conferences every now and then. Upon his death the mourning newsboys of America donated over 19,000 pennies to melt down and build a life-size statue of Laddie Boy.

Who would have thought that the White House played home to a veritable menagerie of animals in the past 223 years? Even before the joys of taking a pet into your family were widely recognized the leaders of this country were ahead of the curve.

Happy Election Day!

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