We pledge a loyalty to the pets of the United States of America and to the owners for which they stand, as one animal kingdom, with liberty and support for all. Ok, so that oath isn’t a real thing, but it COULD be, right? Americans love our pets, and our pets love their Americans. In a world sometimes full of shadows, this simple truth keeps on shining a bright light.
Some presidential pets have given comfort to the First Family, while others gained recognition for helping to shape the nation’s political canvas. No matter what position they held, pets in the Oval Office have yet to disappoint. For centuries now, dogs have been the most popular (though certainly not the only) choice for animal counterparts. Thirty-one of the forty-six United States presidents have had at least one canine in the West Wing. As the adage goes, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” so let me tell you ‘bout my beeeeest friend…
Since the beginning…
George Washington, our very first President-elect, had a LOT of dogs. He was most known for his hunting dogs, but among the breeds kept at Mt. Vernon were Briards, Dalmatians, French Hounds, English Foxhounds, Greyhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Pointers, Spaniels, and Terriers (to name a few). Washington was so avid about hunting with his dogs that he created a new breed! According to the American Kennel Club, Washington cross-bred his Coonhounds with French Hounds whose puppies resulted in the American Foxhound. These pups continue to be one of the most ideal hunting breeds of all time.
George was also known to give his dogs unique names, including Sweet Lips, Venus, Drunkard, Trulove, and Madame Moose. These names were said to be inspired by the individual dog’s distinctive barks (or voice). It is also said that Washington was very attentive to the care of his prized dogs and visited them frequently each day. Unfortunately, he was only interested in ‘true’ dogs whose characteristics met predetermined needs. If any given dog did not fit the mold, the results could be deadly (literally). In modern times, Washington would never be elected President of the U.S. Humane Society, but at least he set a precedent for welcoming Presidential doggos right from the start.
Have you ever wondered why the name “Fido” is generically used to refer to dogs? Well, wonder no more! President Abraham Lincoln’s dog, Fido, left such a legacy that his name remains as infamous as his owner’s. Fido was a faithful, yellow lab mix who loved long walks around town and assisting Lincoln with errands. The two were quite inseparable, that is until Honest Abe became President.
Lincoln worried that Fido would find the hustle and bustle of the White House too much to handle. The constant visitors and regular travel would likely be unnerving disruptions to the older dog’s established routines. Before leaving for the Capitol, a difficult decision was made to send Fido to live with friends. The Lincolns did not take this choice lightly, and they gave precise instructions regarding Fido’s care. He was never to be tied up alone outdoors, never to be scolded for having muddy paws in the house, must be allowed inside whenever desired, and always allowed to roam around the dinner table during mealtime. Abe even gave Fido’s caretakers a custom-made couch to ensure the precious fur baby had a piece of home to cuddle upon. Can you sense the love that existed? We can! The bond was strong, and sadly so was the tragedy. Interestingly enough, both Abraham AND Fido were assassinated by crazed men in acts of violence that will never be forgotten.
While Franklin D. Roosevelt had eight dogs during his term in office, his Scottish Terrier, Fala, was inarguably the most well-known. Fala gained such popularity that FRD hired a paw-sonal secretary to sort through all the fan mail! If that isn’t a testimony to America’s adoration of puppers, then we don’t know what is. Fala often traveled with the President. Whether it was a long or short trip, and no matter the means of transportation, Fala was FDR’s constant companion. As such, Fala met many famous visitors and entertained them with the tricks he had learned in his youth. His most amusing trick was curling his lip into a smile.
Fala was treated like a king at the White House. Every morning, after a good night’s sleep on his private chair at the foot of the President’s bed, the staff served him a delectable bone via silver platter. Fala was so important to the Presidency that he became the first and only presidential pet to be immortalized in statue form. You can visit his likeness alongside FDR’s at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C.
The Coolidge family had MANY awesome pets (see the complete list here). In fact, their fondness for the comfort of animals was so widely known that some citizens started shipping their own pets to the First Family for adoption! Crazy, right? We can’t imagine doing such a thing, but history says it happened. President Coolidge was so enamored with dogs in particular that he once said, “Any man who does not like dogs, and want them about, does not deserve to be in the White House.”
The favorite family dog was a white Border Collie named Rob Roy. Yes, he was named after the popular cocktail. Rob Roy accompanied the President to the oval office daily. He was often seen proudly walking around Washington D.C. while Mrs. Coolidge shopped, always slept in their bedroom, and was humorously known to hate elevator rides. Even more notably, he was the first dog to appear in an official First Family portrait. He is depicted alongside First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge in the painting, which now hangs in the White House’s China Room. His owners described Rob Roy as “a stately gentleman of great courage and fidelity.” We wish we knew him!
Pushinka may very well be the most celebratory presidential pup, and for good reason! It is speculated that she helped save the world from nuclear destruction by assisting to end the cold war. Woah doggy! Pushinka, whose name is Russian for “fluffy,” was living proof that the love of dogs can bring together even the most disagreeable enemies.
At a state dinner in Vienna, Jackie Kennedy reportedly took a liking to Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev’s famous astronaut dog, Strelka. Mrs. Kennedy inquired about puppies, and shortly after, one arrived at the White House. Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged many pleasantries during the Cold War, but the furry gift to young Caroline Kennedy seemed a heartwarming gesture. Not everyone shared this opinion, however. Many Americans thought the mutt an insult to the President, while others accused her of being a spy. According to Wikipedia, precautions were taken by the CIA to ensure she was not concealing an implanted listening device or tiny bomb. Regardless of popular opinion, fluffy was found clear and happily accepted into “American citizenship.” She was later wooed by the Kennedy’s Welsh Terrier, Charlie, and birthed four beloved puppies (Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker).
Like plenty of First Families before and after them, the Kennedy’s had numerous pets, but none of them can be credited with the peacemaking abilities of Pushinka and her lineage. A simple tail wag and snoot boop quite possibly made a whole world of difference in a time of great geopolitical tension. We salute you, fluffy doggo, and thank you for your service!
Named in honor of Mildred Caldwell Kerr, a longtime friend of the Bush family, Millie the dog held some serious “Hollywood icon” credibility. She was portrayed in several TV shows during the 1990s and was the first presidential dog attributed with “writing” a New York Times Best Seller! Check out her children’s book here. The first-ever dog park in Houston, Texas (the Bush’s hometown) was also opened in honor of Millie. The park features fake fire hydrants, walkways, open areas to run leash-free, ponds to swim in, and doggy showers. The park was rated the best dog park in the nation in 2005 and is still a popular destination in the area.
Although Millie may have gotten more attention during George H.W. Bush’s administration, her puppy Ranger became the President’s favorite dog. Named after the Texas Rangers baseball team, he was the only male from Millie’s celebrated White House litter. Ranger and the President seemed to bond almost immediately. Everyone described the silly pup as big, bouncy, and a great terrorizer of squirrels. Unfortunately, a cancer diagnosis at just four years old ended Ranger’s life too soon. Remembering fondly, Barbara Bush recalled that she could not begin to describe the pleasure George got from his dog Ranger taking flying leaps over imaginary logs.
The legacy continues…
Of course, we are all familiar with the most recent presidential pets – Buddy and Socks Clinton, Miss Beazley Bush, and Bo Obama. President Biden carried on the institution of presidential pets in the White House with the fundraising “indoguration” of his German Shephards, Champ and Major. Though both dogs are special, Major will be the first dog to make an official leap from the shelter to Executive Mansion!
We should note that dogs aren’t the only animal species to grace U.S. presidential history. According to Wikipedia, there have been all sorts of pets, including birds, cats, goats, horses, rabbits, alligators, hamsters, lions, a donkey, raccoon, black bear, and hyena. Goodness gracious! It seems the political zoo is a real thing (wink, wink). Seriously though, we believe that animal ambassadors are a real thing, and emotional support animals are among the finest. Never underestimate an animal’s ability to make long-lasting impacts on its owner and, therefore, the world around them.
“Animals are not just living things; they are beings with lives… that makes all the difference in the world… next time you are outside… notice the first animal you see… you are beholding a unique individual with personality traits, an emotional profile, and a library of knowledge built on experience… what you are witnessing is not just biology, but a biography.” – Jonathan Balcombe