Monday, May 15, 2017

Thoughts on Presidential Pets

First Lady Laura Bush's Scottish
 Terrier, Miss Beazley
Chelsea Clinton's cat Socks
President Richard Nixon's dogs,
but Checkers is not among them
(he died in 1964)
Warren Harding's Terrier,
Laddie Boy

George W. Bush's
cat, India

Ronald Reagan's Spaniel, Rex

Dogs, by far, are the most common animal companions of America’s presidents—rivaled only by horses and cats. In fact, rather than list the presidents who had dogs, it is far easier to list the nine presidents who did not have them—at least not while they lived in the White House:

James Madison:
Polly want a cracker?
James Madison (who only had a parrot named Polly), William H. Harrison (who kept only a cow and a goat), James K. Polk (who had no pets at all), Zachary Taylor (who had a horse), Millard Fillmore (who had two ponies), Andrew Johnson (see below), Chester A. Arthur (who kept a rabbit and three horses), William McKinley (who had a cat and three birds), and Donald Trump (with no pets so far).

In the first century of the Republic, presidents kept many barnyard animals for other reasons than companionship. Several presidents had chickens, goats, rabbits, cows or donkeys. Andrew Jackson even owned fighting cocks, which are far from being pets.

Other “pets” were more eccentric choices. James Buchanan owned an eagle, of all creatures (species unknown, so perhaps not a bald eagle, our national bird), but if you think that is unusual, how about the bears kept by Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge? Or Coolidge’s lion cubs, or Martin Van Buren tiger cubs?

Van Buren was given two tiger cubs by the Ottoman Empire, but Congress made him put them in a zoo, evidently because this present fell under the prohibition in the U.S. Constitution against American officials keeping gifts from foreign governments without the permission of Congress. (See Article I, section 9, clause 8.)
Two presidents had alligators

What is it about alligators that led two presidents (John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover) to own them? (Hint: These, too, may have been presented as diplomatic gifts.)

Andrew Johnson fed
mice in his cell -er,
 I mean, his bedroom.
Speaking of diplomatic gifts, Franklin Pierce seems to have gotten all of his pets, which included dogs and birds, from Asia around the time that the United States began trading with Japan. Commodore Matthew Perry was sent by Fillmore to Japan to open that nation to U.S. trade, but Pierce, who had succeeded to the presidency before Perry’s return, got most of the credit as well as the cool gifts.

Ronald Reagan:
The last president to own horses
The eccentricities of other presidents notwithstanding, Andrew Johnson could be the most peculiar in terms of his relationship with animals. While he had no pets as such, he regularly fed the mice that wandered into his bedroom. One wonders whether the first chief executive to be impeached meant to live like a prisoner held in solitary confinement.

As one might expect, presidential horse and pony ownership is concentrated in the early part of the nation’s history, and then it tapers off in more recent times. There are eleven horse or pony owners before 1900 and only three since then:

George Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, John Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Abraham Lincoln:
First cat owner
Rutherford Hayes:
Second cat owner
The first president known to have kept cats was Lincoln, who had two of them and claimed that one was smarter than his whole cabinet. The next cat owner in the White House was Rutherford B. Hayes, who added a pair of the first Siamese cats in America to his collection of eight dogs and one cat. The Siamese were gifts from—who else?—the King of Siam.

The twelve cat owners in the White House are Lincoln, Hayes, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Coolidge, Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. (At least in the cases of Carter and Clinton, the cat seems to have belonged primarily to the president’s daughter, not the president.) Only McKinley had a cat without also having at least one dog, although he kept a parrot and some roosters, too, which must have fascinated his two cats.

Aside from Buchanan, several presidents showed an interest in birds, from the barnyard’s chicken, turkey and goose to the household’s canary and parrot to the wilder, more exotic owl and blue macaw (a kind of parrot)—the latter two both belonging to Theodore Roosevelt. Also, Jefferson and Grover Cleveland kept mockingbirds, Jefferson even naming his mockingbird Dick.

Some presidents had veritable zoos, while others kept more modest collections.

George Washington:
Named one of his many dogs
after nemesis General Cornwallis
Washington had quite a few animals, including at least eight dogs. One, a greyhound, was named Cornwallis, after Washington’s Revolutionary War nemesis, British General Charles Cornwallis. He also had at least eight horses. Martha Washington had a parrot. (Of the first seven presidents, three had parrots in their households, and at least two were rather unimaginatively named Polly.)

The Father of his country also had a donkey that was designated “Royal Gift,” which sounds rather more like a description of its origin than an affectionate name. Washington’s staghounds and coonhounds had names that seem whimsical if not suggestive: Sweetlips, Scentwell, Vulcan, Drunkard, Taster, Tippler (or Tipler) and Tipsy.

Thomas Jefferson;
Bear cubs, mockingbirds, dogs, but no cats
John Adams, in contrast, had only three dogs, one of which was named Satan. His two horses were named Cleopatra and Caesar, a classical pairing.

Jefferson added his pair of bear cubs to a modest collection of birds, dogs and horses. Of course, cubs do not stay cubs, but I do not know what happened to the bears when they became adults. It appears that a number of presidential “pets” were only kept while they were young, which is understandable in the cases of wild and especially aggressive species.

John Quincy Adams obviously did not cuddle with his “pets.” All he had were silkworms and an alligator, the latter being a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette. Where the Frenchman got it, I don’t know. BTW, Adams and Lafayette were both equally fluent in French and English. I wonder what language they spoke when the alligator was presented to the President. In any case, the same word, “alligator,” is used in both languages.
Tip of the iceberg: Theodore Roosevelt & family, shown with Skip, one of ten
dogs. Roosevelt also kept cats, ponies, guinea pigs, reptiles, birds, and a hyena

Theodore Roosevelt practically had a zoo. Along with ten dogs, two cats, a pair of ponies, five guinea pigs, some chickens, rabbits, and pigs, he also kept a snake, lizard, macaw, owl, bear, badger, rat, and hyena.

Calvin Coolidge
was one of the virtual
presidential zookeepers.
Calvin Coolidge, too, had a zoo. Besides a dozen dogs, some canaries, a cat, donkey and goose, there were several animals that ordinarily belong in the wild or, at least, are more associated with zoos than executive mansions. These included two lion cubs, a bear, kangaroo, pygmy hippo, antelope, bobcat, and raccoon.

If someone were to drill down into the psyches of the presidents, a range of attitudes toward stewardship of the animal kingdom might be evinced, ranging from the matter-of-fact (W.H. Harrison) to the inquisitive (J.Q. Adams) to the callous (Andrew Jackson). Along the spectrum, we might expect to find several variations on the bizarre. At the same time, the sight of a lofty political figure with his or her animal companion tends to have a tender and humanizing effect.

More presidential pet pictures, courtesy of the wikipedia article "United States presidential pets":

Benjamin Harrison's Collie, Dash - He
also owned a goat & two opossums
Franklin Roosevelt with
Scottish Terrier, Fala
Herbert Hoover with
King Tut, a Belgian

First Lady Grace Coolidge with
Terrier, Laddie Buck, and
Collie, Rob Roy

Gerald Ford with
Golden Retriever,

First Daughter Susan Ford
with Siamese, Shan Shein

Barack Obama's Portuguese
Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny

Lyndon Johnson at his least flattering:
picking up one of his four beagles by the
ears. Good thing the election was over.

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