In honor of the Presidents Day holiday, the Beatrice Humane Society would like to remind you how much comfort a pet can provide at the end of a stressful day. Few jobs are probably more stressful than that of president of the United States, so it’s not surprising that a long line of commanders-in-chief have had de-stressers-in-chief living alongside them. While dogs are the preferred pet to fill this role, cats, birds, horses, a raccoon and even a cow have found forever home in the White House.
Only three U.S. presidents have declined a pet companion during their tenure, and the nation’s first president, George Washington, set the precedent for future first families-owning foxhounds, coonhounds, greyhounds, horses and even a parrot. Construction on the White House wasn’t completed until the second administration took office, so John Adams is credited with owning the first Presidential pet, three dogs named Juno, Mark, and Satan, as well as two horses named Cleopatra and Caesar. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, was famous for his many pets, housing nearly 40 during his eight-year term in office. Roosevelt’s six children had a snake named Emily Spinach, Bill the lizard, a rabbit aptly named Peter, Jonathan Edwards the Brown Bear, as well as a variety of dogs, cats, a badger, birds, guinea pigs, and more. The 28th man to hold office, Woodrow Wilson, owned up to 48 sheep, the flock kept the White House lawn trimmed "in the most economical way" and the wool was sold to benefit the American Red Cross. In late November 1926, a live animal was sent to the White House to be slaughtered and served up for that year’s Thanksgiving dinner. President Calvin Coolidge, however, fell in love with the animal and granted it a pardon. The lucky creature was no turkey, but a raccoon. First lady Grace Coolidge named her new pet raccoon Rebecca.
Some of the more unusual U.S. presidential pets have been gifts from other world leaders. James Buchanan, the 15th president, received a herd of elephants from the King of Siam (current day Thailand). The Sultan of Oman gave Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, a pair of tiger cubs. A dog named Pushinka was a gift to John F. Kennedy from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. When Pushinka had puppies, they were gifted to kids who had written letters to the White House. The 36th American president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was the last president to have a pet that was not a dog or cat, housing both hamsters and birds in the White House.
President George H.W. Bush can be credited with owning “the most famous dog in White House history.” Mildred "Millie" Kerr Bush was the pet English Springer Spaniel of the 41st American president. Bush mentioned her in a speech during his 1992 bid for re-election, saying "My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos" in reference to opposition candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Millie is credited as the author of Millie's Book, released in August 1990, making it to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller nonfiction list that same year. Millie was portrayed in an episode of the television show Murphy Brown as well as an episode of Wings and Who's The Boss. Millie also made a cameo appearance in a Simpsons episode where former President Bush is jogging with some of his new neighbors. There is also a dog park in Houston, Texas is named after Millie.
American presidents have a long history of owning pets, not only because of the stress-related benefits of pet ownership. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 57% of households had a pet at the end of 2016. Owning a dog makes a candidate relatable in a way that not much else can. A dog can also suggest a sort of innate goodness in its owner. Not only is it reassuring to picture the president having a loyal dog by their side at the end of a hard day, in the world of cut-throat politics, that sort of companionship and unending loyalty is a rarity. As a saying often attributed to President Harry S. Truman goes, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
First Published with Beatrice Daily Sun: