07/01/2012 - By Gayle M. Irwin
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America celebrated its birthday on July 4th, and what could be more American than a pet? Presidents from the dawning of America to the current White House occupant have presided over America's joys and challenges with four-footed friends nearby. These canines and other creatures have been as diverse as their humans, representing various breeds and species, from lap dogs to livestock.
The first "first dogs" were foxhounds. Some say George Washington possessed as many as ten, including one named Sweetlips!
James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes had Newfoundlands.
Teddy Roosevelt owned a variety of dogs, from small (Pekingese) to very large (St. Bernard). He was also a terrier fan – he had five of them! Guinea pigs and garter snakes were also part of his furry family.
Warren Harding's Airedale, "Laddie Boy", is still seen today thanks to a statue of the dog in the Smithsonian.
Franklin Roosevelt's Scottish Terrier, Fala, supposedly received more fan mail than most presidents. FDR also had other dogs, including Irish Setters, a German Shepherd, and a Bull Mastiff.
Scottish terriers are a popular breed with American Presidents. In addition to FDR, others who had Scotties at the White House include Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush, who had two: Barney and Miss Beazley.
The first George Bush brought a Springer Spaniel named Millie to the White House. Millie even helped author a children's book! She had puppies while living in the famous Washington DC home, two of which lived at the White House with Presidents George 1 and George 2: Ranger and Spot, respectively.
Bill Clinton had his Chocolate Labrador Retriever buddy appropriately name Buddy.
Lyndon Johnson's breed of choice was the beagle – he had three of them, named Him, Her, and Edgar. The president ruffled some feathers when he lifted the beagles by their ears.
Feathers have been part of presidential menageries. Calvin Coolidge had two canaries named Nip and Tuck, and John F. Kennedy's family had a canary named Robin plus two parakeets.
The movie "We Bought a Zoo" could easily have been about the lives of Coolidge or JFK – each president nearly had zoos while living at the White House! In addition to the dogs and birds, Coolidge and his family had a donkey, a pygmy hippo, a wallaby, bobcat, black bear, and two raccoons. Kennedy owned many dogs, one not surprisingly, an Irish Wolfhound. Additionally, the Kennedys had several horses and ponies, including one named Macaroni, plus hamsters and a rabbit named Zsa Zsa.
Cats have also graced the hallways of the White House. Possibly the most famous was the Clintons' cat, Socks, but there were kitties in the kabana before that, including Gerald Ford's cat, Shan, the Kennedys' Tom Kitten, and Teddy Roosevelt's cats, Tom Quartz and Slippers.
Livestock have also been part of many a president's presence in Washington. Besides horses and ponies, other livestock that were sometimes visible on the White House lawn included cows, sheep, chickens, goats and even a pig named Maude (owned by Teddy Roosevelt). Woodrow Wilson had sheep graze the lawn to keep it "mowed" during the World War I era!
By far the most popular presidential pet has been the dog, and some of their names reflect America's values. FDR had a Great Dane he named President, and Ford's Golden Retriever was named Liberty.
The current president, Barack Obama, did not break the honorable circle of pets in the White House. He and his family welcomed their first dog, Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, not long after entering the White House themselves.
Pets of American presidents and their families hold a special place in American history… and in the hearts of the country's citizenry. Move over fireworks, someone let the dogs out!
Learn more about America's presidents and their pals at:
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer, author and speaker. Her works include stories and books about her dogs with strong, positive life lessons. A new book release titled Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog is planned for September 2012. She has also been published in editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Visit www.gaylemirwin.com to learn more.