Hail to the chief ... animals!

Harry Truman, 33rd president of the United States, once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Or a cat, perhaps. Or maybe a family of gerbils, a goat, some sheep, or even an alligator. Ever since George Washington, American presidents have kept pets. With Presidents' Day on Monday, we thought this was a good time to honor the animals behind (or sitting on the laps of) the executives. Can you match these pets to the presidents listed below? (Answers at bottom.)

1. Fala is probably the most famous White House pet. He made headlines during his master's third election campaign when a rumor (it wasn't true) began that a naval destroyer - at great expense - had been sent to retrieve him. Fala's master spoke for him: 'His Scotch soul was furious.'

2. On a signal from the president, Liberty, a golden retriever, would rush into the Oval Office and break up meetings that had gone on too long. Such informality was in marked contrast to the 'imperial' presidency of the previous president.

3. Polly, a green parrot, was doted upon by the president's wife, Martha. The chief executive preferred horses, but also bred mules and dogs. Besides being the father of our country, he's father of the American foxhound.

4. An alligator was a gift from France's Marquis de Lafayette, a key US ally in the Revolutionary War. The 'gator resided for months in a bathroom in the East Room. The gift's reluctant recipient was the first son of a president to become president himself.

5. Old Ike the Ram and a flock of sheep kept the White House lawn neatly trimmed so presidential gardeners could go off to war and make the world 'safe for democracy.' The bookish president wasn't much for farm animals, but he did occasionally go out among the herd and pat them.

6. This president's six children brought a menagerie to the White House, everything from a bear and a pony to a hyena, a badger, guinea pigs, and many more. Daughter Alice had a garter snake (above) named Emily Spinach. No wonder her father established so many nature preserves.

7. Pushinka was a mutt from the Soviet Union. She was the offspring of Strelka, one of the first dogs to be sent into space by the USSR. Pushinka (it means 'fluffy' in Russian) was a gift, a peace offering from the Soviet premier to the president's daughter. Given the cold war, though, the pup was thoroughly examined by the CIA first.

8. Jack the Turkey was supposed to be Christmas dinner when he was given to a wartime White House. But the president's young son grew fond of the bird and begged his father to spare him - which he did, to no one's surprise. The boy's tenderhearted father had already allowed his son's two pet goats to ride in the presidential carriage.

A. George Washington, the first president of the United States, served 1789-97
B. John Quincy Adams, sixth president, 1825-29
C. Abraham Lincoln, 16th, 1861-65
D. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th, 1901-09
E. Woodrow Wilson, 28th, 1913-21
F. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd, 1933-45
G. John F. Kennedy, 35th, 1961-63
H. Gerald R. Ford, 38th, 1974-77


(1) F; Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Secret Service dubbed Fala 'the Informer,' because when he was spotted, FDR was sure to be nearby. (2) H; Gerald R. Ford. It fell to President Ford to walk Liberty early one morning. They exited without incident - only to find that they were locked out. The Secret Service had to rescue them. (3) A; George Washington. When a stray wandered into his Revolutionary War headquarters, Washington's officers wanted to keep it. But a name on the dog's collar showed it was General Howe's. Washington insisted that the dog be returned to the British commander under a flag of truce. (4) B; John Quincy Adams. His preferred 'pets' were silkworms. His wife, Louisa, reportedly spun and wove the silk herself, enough for several gowns. (5) E; Woodrow Wilson. When World War I ended and the gardeners returned, Old Ike and his flock retired to a farm in Maryland. (6) D; Theodore Roosevelt. Kermit and Quentin Roosevelt once sneaked a pony up in the White House elevator to visit their sick brother, Archie. (7) G; John F. Kennedy. Nikita Khrushchev gave the puppy to Caroline after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. (8) C; Abraham Lincoln. Tad Lincoln's goats were named Nanny and Nanko.

Sources: 'Presidential Pets,' by Niall Kelly (Abbeville Press, 1992); 'First Dogs,' by Roy Rowan and Brooke Janis (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997); www.whitehouse.gov

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Hail to the chief ... animals!
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today