This Wednesday is the presidential inauguration and marks not only a transfer of power for our country but an auspicious day for our four legged friends. This Inauguration Day is the first time a shelter dog will become First Dog (don’t tell Champ that I gave Major that title!). Joe Biden will bring his two German Shepherd pups, Champ and Major, to the White House to assist him in the very difficult task of running the United States of America. While Champ is an old hand at this governing business, having lived in the White House during the Obama administration, Major is about to become a very important (to dogs anyway) part of American history! I’m sure Champ will show him the ropes and that both pups are up to the task of helping their Dog Dad Joe through the next four years.
In honor of Champ and Major’s “indoguration,” we’ve compiled some fun facts and lists of the presidential pets of the past. Check them out below!
Weirdest White House Pets:
While many of us would expect the occasional dog or cat to pop up in presidential history, I doubt anyone would expect William Henry Hippopotamus. That’s right, President Calvin Coolidge owned a hippo he nicknamed “Billy.” But don’t worry, it was only a pygmy hippo. Speaking of Coolidge, he owned or was gifted a wide variety of odd animals, although many of them were donated to the zoo.
- John Quincy Adams supposedly had an alligator, formerly owned by the Marquis de Lafayette, that lived in the East Room in it’s own bath tub, but as no proof has been obtained, this might just be a myth
- Adams’ wife Louisa kept silkworms
- Thomas Jefferson had several mockingbirds throughout his administration along with two grizzly bear cubs very briefly
- Benjamin Harrison had two opossums as well as (supposedly) 2 alligators that he kept in the White House Conservatory
- Theodore Roosevelt counted many odd animals as pets, most notably several bears, a pig, a badger, snakes, a hyena, a lion, and a zebra
- Woodrow Wilson kept a flock of 48 sheep on the White House lawn to keep it trimmed and sold the wool to benefit the Red Cross, way to think outside the box Wilson!
- Calvin Coolidge also briefly owned two lion cubs from South Africa and several Pekin ducks along with several raccoons, a bobcat, and even more briefly a wallaby, a duiker (antelope), and a black bear
- While we don’t consider Siamese cats that exotic these days, when Rutherford B Hayes was president, he was the first person to bring that breed to the states with his two kitties, Siam and Miss Pussy; Hayes also had a small menagerie including cows, goats, canaries, a mockingbird and more
Funniest Presidential Pet Names:
- George Washington named his coonhounds Drunkard, Taster, Tipler, and Tipsy; he certainly had a theme there
- John Adams had a dog named Satan
- Benjamin Harrison had two opossums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection
- William McKinley named his yellow-headed Mexican parrot Washington Post
- Theodore Roosevelt had so many animals that we could list them for days (well, not really, but it feels like it!) but some of our favorite names are Emily Spinach the garter snake, Fierce the one-legged rooster, and Baron Spreckle the hen
- William Howard Taft’s daughter Helen had 2 cows named Mooly Wooly and Pauline Wayne
- Warren G Harding must have been tired of coming up with names, he had a canary named Petey and a squirrel named Pete
- Calvin Coolidge had some excellent names for his menagerie, but some of the best are Boston Beans the bulldog, Do-Funny the songbird, and Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau the lion cubs
- John F Kennedy, or more likely his daughter, had two ponies named Macaroni and Leprechaun
- Maybe not the most creative, but definitely amusing, Lyndon B Johnson named his beagles Him and Her; you guessed it, one was a boy and the other a girl
- Great naming abilities run in Jimmy Carter’s family; he named his border collie Grits and his daughter named their cat Misty Malarky Ying Yang
- Bonus fun fact: We often call dogs by the generic name Fido, which came from Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido, who was famously assassinated just a few months after Lincoln
Pets Gifted to Presidents:
Some people like Senator Ted Kennedy gift presidents with adorable Portuguese Water Dog puppies like Bo (to the Obamas). Other people like the King of Siam gift presidents with a herd of elephants. Don’t worry, James Buchanan gave all of them away except for one, which he kept along with a pair of bald eagles.
- Royal Gift was an Andalusian donkey given to George Washington by King Charles III of Spain
- Captain Zebulon Pike gifted Thomas Jefferson with those two aforementioned grizzly bears. Thankfully, he deemed them too troublesome to keep at home and donated them to a museum in Philadelphia
- Martin Van Buren was gifted 2 tiger cubs by Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Muscat and Oman, but was asked to donate them to the zoo by Congress
- The hyena mentioned above, named Bill, was gifted to Roosevelt by Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia
- Soviet Union Premier Krushchev gave John F Kennedy a dog name Pushinka, one of the puppies of Soviet Space Dog Strelka
Bonus: The president with the most pets
Theodore Roosevelt had one of the largest if not the largest menagerie to ever occupy the White House. (He and Coolidge are neck-in-neck depending on how you want to count pets.) Throughout his presidency Roosevelt had ten dogs, two cats, a rat, a snake, a pig, a rabbit, a “small bear,” a macaw, a hyena, a pony, a lizard, and a badger. That’s not to mention his guinea pigs Admiral Dewey, Bishop Doane, Dr. Johnson, Father O’Grady, and Fighting Bob Evans and a wide variety of animals that he had briefly before donating them to zoos or museums.
Runners up Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson would interact with large groups of animals. Lincoln loved cats and could be found playing with any kittens he came across through his travels. Andrew Johnson had taken to feeding the white mice that lived in his White House bedroom as a stress reliever.