Presidential Pets Throughout History
Save for a few American presidents, every commander-in-chief has also been a pet parent. While most have had cats, dogs, birds, and horses, a few have embraced more untraditional choices, including a hyena, bobcat, raccoon, and badger.
Want to know which presidents kept alligators in the bathtub (yes, there were two), who used their dog to dodge a campaign scandal, and which pet authored a best-selling book? Let’s journey through history and uncover the stories behind presidential pets.
George Washington: Sweet Lips, Tipsy, and Other Dogs
The Father of His Country was also a devoted dog parent who loved foxhounds. Though he did give them some rather peculiar names. Can you imagine being in the park and calling out to Drunkard, Mopsey, Tipsy, Tipler, Vulcan, or Sweet Lips?
John Adams: Juno and Satan the Dogs
The first president to reside in the White House brought two dogs with him, Juno and Satan. Juno was reportedly beloved by First Lady Abigail Adams, who said, “If you love me … you must love my dog.”
But Satan? With a name like that, it sounds like he wasn’t so loved.
Thomas Jefferson: Grizzly Bear Cubs
In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson received two grizzly bear cubs as a gift. He had the common sense to donate them to a friend’s museum, but while waiting for the transfer, the bears lived in cages on the White House lawn.
Unfortunately, after arriving at the museum one of the bears broke free from its cage and was shot.
Thomas Jefferson: Mockingbirds
The co-author of the Declaration of Independence bought himself some mockingbirds. One bird, Dick, sat on the president's shoulder and was sometimes given food...straight from Jefferson’s mouth.
Today, wild mockingbirds still live on the grounds of Monticello, Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville, Virginia.
James Madison: Polly the Parrot
While James Madison was busy helping with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, his wife Dolley gained fame for her parrot, Polly. Greeting visitors with a bird on her shoulder helped them feel at ease, while children liked watching the bird fly.
Unfortunately, Dolley’s beloved bird had a nasty side, dive-bombing guests and even biting the president. Still, Dolley refused to give her up and the macaw ended up outlasting the president.
James Monroe: Spaniel
James Monroe was a two-term president but a one-pet person—though technically, the spaniel that lived with him in the White House belonged to his teenage daughter, Maria.
Aside from Maria’s affection for the dog, little else is known, so here’s a fun fact about James Monroe: He was one of three presidents who died on Independence Day. The others were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who passed away on the same Independence Day in 1826. Monroe died in 1831.
John Quincy Adams: Alligator
Instead of bringing flowers or a bottle of wine, Revolutionary War officer Marquis de Lafayette showed up to a White House dinner with an alligator. President John Quincy Adams decided to keep the apex predator as a pet, storing it in the bathtub of the White House’s unfinished East Room.
John Quincy Adams: Silkworms
Less scary than an alligator, but perhaps no less strange, were the silworms that John Quincy Adams had during his time in the White House.
As the tale is spun, it was the idea of his wife, Louisa, who was depressed and wanted something to lift her spirits. Raising the silkworms and harvesting their silk to make dresses was one of Louisa’s bright spots during her otherwise unhappy time at the White House.
Andrew Jackson: Poll the Swearing Parrot
Since President Andrew Jackson loved to swear, it’s no surprise that his parrot, Poll, picked up a few choice four-letter words, which he uttered at Jackson’s funeral. As noted by an attendee, the bird “let loose perfect gusts of ‘cuss words.’” What exactly he said during the service remains a mystery.
Martin Van Buren: Tiger Cubs
When the Sultan of Oman presented him with two tiger cubs, President Martin Van Buren was thrilled. Congress, however, put a stop to the big cats living in the White House, arguing that they were gifted to the United States, not to Van Buren.
The president showed his stripes and fought back, but the cubs were ultimately sent to the Washington Zoo.
William Henry Harrison: Sukey the Cow
When moving into the White House, William Henry Harrison decided to bring his pet cow, Sukey, who he’d purchased from a Maryland dairy farmer before becoming president. Sadly, Harrison didn’t get to enjoy his unusual White House pet for long; he died of septic shock just one month after taking office, making him the country’s shortest-acting president in history.
John Tyler: Johnny Ty the Canary
John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, loved his canary so much that he named it “Johnny Ty”...after himself.
The president also wanted his namesake to have a first lady of his own, so he went to great lengths to secure another canary to be his mate. Alas, it wasn’t a love match; the new bird turned out to be another male. Johnny Ty died shortly later.
James K. Polk: No Pets, No Fun
James Polk was a serious man who believed that “no President who performs his duty faithfully can have any leisure,” which meant no pets in the White House. During his time in office, Polk did, however, acquire several new states, including Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Zachary Taylor: Old Whitey the Horse
A decorated war hero, Zachary Taylor often rode his horse, Old Whitey, into battle. Later in life, the horse lazily grazed the White House lawn and posed for portraits with his owner and best friend.
When Taylor unexpectedly died, Old Whitey marched in the funeral procession, directly behind his beloved owner's casket.
Millard Fillmore: Mason and Dixon the Ponies
Known for his sense of humor, President Millard Fillmore named his ponies Mason and Dixon in honor of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the men responsible for drawing the border between America’s northern and southern states. Why exactly that’s funny is lost to history, but we do know Fillmore continued to be an animal lover.
In 1867, he formed a chapter of the newly created American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in his hometown of Buffalo.
Franklin Pierce: Japanese Chin Dogs
While the 14th President may not be remembered for much, he did open up trade between The United States and Japan. In celebration, the man who brokered the deal, Commodore Matthew Perry, returned from the East with seven teacup-sized dogs.
Identified as Japanese Chin dogs, they were nicknamed “sleeve dogs” because they were small enough to fit inside a kimono sleeve.
James Buchanan: Eagles
As James Buchanan dealt with heated arguments between the North and South that would ultimately lead to the Civil War (and earn him a reputation for being America’s worst president), he found comfort in his bald eagles. A gift from a friend, the eagles weren’t suited for life at the White House (despite being the nation’s symbol) and were sent to Buchanan’s home in Pennsylvania.
James Buchanan: Lara the Very Big Dog
Although James Buchanan is our only president to have never married, he did enter the White House with a companion named Lara, a Newfoundland dog. This massive, 170-pound canine was rare in the United States and was sometimes mistaken for a bear, giving unsuspecting visitors quite the scare.
Abraham Lincoln: Nanny and Nanko the Goats
Abraham Lincoln was a big-time animal lover whose pets included a pig, dog, ponies, cats—and a pair of goats named Nanny and Nanko.
Ill-behaved, the goats liked to chew on flower bulbs and furniture. Despite their mischief, Lincoln was fond of Nanny and Nanko, referring to them as “the kindest and best goats in the world.”
Abraham Lincoln: Jack the Turkey
On October 3, 1863, Lincoln signed an official proclamation setting aside the last Thursday in November as a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” As part of the festivities, the Lincolns were going to have a turkey. However, Lincoln’s son, Tad, bonded with the bird and cried for a pardon. In response, Lincoln created an “order of reprieve.”
Jack went on to live alongside Lincoln's many other pets.
Abraham Lincoln: Rabbits
Even before the death of Abraham, the Lincolns experienced their share of loss. In 1862, the president’s son, Willie, died of typhoid fever. To help his other son, Tad, cope with the loss of his brother, Lincoln gifted him two white rabbits.
According to documentation, stroking the rabbits’ fur helped soothe Tad during his time of grief.
Andrew Johnson: Mice
Though he didn’t bring any pets with him, President Andrew Johnson made a few friends during his time in the White House, including some mice.
During the rough times of his impeachment trial, Johnson discovered the little white critters in his bedroom and fed them flour and grain mill (from his former business). As the trial dragged on, Johnson isolated himself in his bedroom and turned to the mice for emotional support.
Ulysses S. Grant: Jeff Davis the Horse
Jeff Davis (named for the plantation from which he came) was one of the president’s favorite horses, despite his “naughty pony face.” Turns out the face matched the personality, as Jeff Davis became a notorious kicker and biter and invoked fear among White House stable staff.
Still, Jeff Davis remained at the president’s side until his death. Grant had several other pets as well, including dogs and gamecocks.
Rutherford B. Hayes: Siam the Siamese Cat
Rutherford B. Hayes had several pets, including a dog, canaries, a goat, and cows. But his most memorable animal was arguably Siam, the first Siamese kitten brought to the United States.
The attractive cat caught the attention of First Lady Lucy Hayes, who first named her Miss Pussy but later decided Siam was more befitting of a cat with a “regal bearing and high-born attitude.” Unfortunately, Siam got sick after a few months in Washington and passed away.
James Garfield: Veto the Dog
James Garfield was known to have a wry sense of humor, and that was on full display when he named his dog Veto—a gesture meant to show Congress that he might not sign all their bills.
Despite the name, Veto (another Newfoundland) was a great friend to the family, sounding the alarm when a barn caught fire and helping to keep rambunctious horses at bay.
Chester Arthur: Horses
The nation’s 21st president was a horseman, and two of his favorites were a perfectly matched pair with reddish-brown coats that drove his carriage. To complement the horses’ beauty, Arthur had his carriage detailed with leather and lace.
Grover Cleveland: Exotic Fish
Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two terms that weren’t consecutive, brought a variety of animals back and forth to the White House. Among his prized pets were dogs, birds, and hundreds of imported fish.
His collection ranged from everyday goldfish to exotic fish from Siam (good thing they didn’t meet the other pet from Siam), who enjoyed a life of leisure in the Rose and Orchid conservatories.
Benjamin Harrison: Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection the Opossums
Benjamin Harrison was a big dog lover, but he also carried a soft spot for two opossums. Named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection (in honor of a slogan from the Republican party), Harrison gifted the opossums to his grandchildren but was said to enjoy watching them run around the White House lawn.
William McKinley: Washington Post the Parrot
It’s unclear if William McKinley actually named his bird after the famed paper, but a connection is possible. In any case, Washington Post was a parrot with personality.
The bird could whistle “Yankee Doodle Dandy'' and became the official White House greeter. He was also a bit of a flirt; every time a woman walked by he squawked, “look at all the pretty girls!”
Theodore Roosevelt: Josiah the Badger
Theodore Roosevelt takes the cake for presidential pets. The father of America’s National Park system had a massive menagerie that included two ponies and eight horses, a pack of dogs, snakes, guinea pigs, a flying squirrel, kangaroo rats, a one-legged rooster, a barn owl, two parrots, a pig, a raccoon, five bears, a coyote, a wildcat, a hyena, a lizard, and a zebra.
Few animals, though, stood out as much as his pet badger.
While giving speeches around the country, Roosevelt was greeted by a 12-year-old girl who offered him her pet badger. Roosevelt’s acceptance of the animal was met with a bite on the finger, but the president was undeterred. He named the critter Josiah and reportedly enjoyed his antics—though the staff wasn’t thrilled with the badger's penchant for nipping at their legs.
Unfortunately, over time Josiah developed a temper, and he was eventually sent to The Bronx Zoo.
Theodore Roosevelt: Bill the Hyena
Exotic animals were a common gift to the Roosevelt family and in 1904, Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II added a hyena named Bill to the president’s collection of pets. Though Roosevelt thought hyenas were subpar, cowardly creatures, he grew fond of Bill and allowed him to live in the White House for a time.
Bill was even allowed to beg for table scraps, and the president taught him tricks.
Theodore Roosevelt: Snakes
President Roosevelt’s daughter Alice had a garter snake named Emily Spinach that she kept in her pocketbook, while his son Quentin had a few snakes as well.
Reportedly, Quentin once barged into a meeting between the president and the attorney general while carrying a king snake in one hand and two smaller ones in the other. When the big snake tried to eat one of the smaller ones, the president just shrugged it off, separated the snakes, and sent Quentin and the reptiles on their way.
Howard William Taft: Pauline the Cow
Mooly Wooly and Pauline were William Taft’s cows, who regularly grazed the White House lawn and provided milk and butter for the president’s meals. Pauline became a breakout star who was dubbed “Queen of the Capital Cows” and appeared at national dairy shows, where her milk was sold for 50 cents. At one dairy show, the 1,500-pound cow got lost and almost ended up in a slaughterhouse.
Woodrow Wilson: Sheep and Ram
Woodrow Wilson owned some ordinary pets like two dogs, a cat, and a few birds, but he was best known for his sheep who grazed the White House lawn. Wilson brought them in to trim the grass and cut costs for staff and house maintenance. They were joined by Old Ike, a ram that chewed tobacco.
Warren G. Harding: Laddie Boy the Dog
Dogs were common presidential pets, but Warren G. Harding’s Laddie Boy was particularly beloved. The Airedale terrier was so adored that he received a presidential-style portrait and was treated with birthday cakes made of biscuits.
The Smithsonian Archives still include a life-size sculpture of him, made with pennies donated by paperboys.
Calvin Coolidge: Rebecca the Racoon
If any president were to challenge Teddy Roosevelt for the most eccentric pets, it’d be Calvin Coolidge. In addition to a dozen dogs, Coolidge had a goose, a donkey, raccoons, a bobcat, a thrush, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippo.
But one of his favorites was Rebecca the raccoon.
Originally meant to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner, Rebecca was saved by her cuteness; the Coolidge family felt she was too adorable to consume and decided to keep her as a pet instead. Treated like royalty by the staff, Rebecca dined on shrimp, eggs, and expensive cream. She spent her days unscrewing light bulbs, opening cabinets, and clawing at expensive furniture.
President Coolidge often walked around with Rebecca draped around his neck, while First Lady Grace enjoyed cradling her in her arms. Eventually, Rebecca was given a mate named Ruben, but, alas, the two didn’t get along.
Calvin Coolidge: Smoky the Bobcat
Smoky, a wild bobcat, was rescued from the wilds of Tennessee and gifted to the Coolidges by the Great Smoky Mountains Association. While the president was apprehensive about taking “a snarling, spitting bundle of dynamite,” he eventually caved for political reasons—the county where the bobcat had been captured skewed heavily Republican, Coolidge’s party.
Eclipsed by the Coolidges' other pets, Smoky received little press and was eventually sent to the zoo.
Calvin Coolidge: Billy the Pygmy Hippo
Okay, so this massive (six-foot, 600-pound) beast never actually spent time in the White House, but he did briefly belong to President Coolidge.
Originally from Liberia, the hippo was gifted to the president by Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the eponymous tire company. It’s unclear if Bill was fed any tires, but Coolidge donated him to the zoo, where he quickly became one of the most popular animals and even appeared in the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Herbert Hoover: King Tut the Dog and Alligators
President Herbert Hoover was a dog lover famous for his prized Belgian shepherd named King Tut and eight other hounds, but it was his son’s alligators that attracted most of the attention...and not the good kind.
Following the presidential alligator tradition, the amphibians were kept in a bathtub but often escaped. They were later given a pond, but they escaped from that too, terrifying White House staff and visitors.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Fala the Dog
Leading Americans through World War II and The Great Depression was taxing work, but that didn’t stop President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from also caring for a pack of dogs, who had names such as Major, Meggie, Tiny, Fala, Blaze, and Winks.
Fala, his black Scottish terrier, became one of the most famous presidential pets of all time, often appearing by the president’s side at news conferences or accompanying him on trips. Fala and FDR spent so much time together that the Secret Service nicknamed the dog “Informer.”
Harry S. Truman: Dog Hater
President Harry Truman wasn’t a pet lover and was very vocal about not wanting an animal in the White House. Still, a supporter from his home state of Missouri sent him a cocker spaniel puppy named Feller. Rather than accept the gift, Truman sent the dog away—and immediately received hate mail from dog lovers across the country.
Dwight Eisenhower: Gabby the Parakeet
President Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower had a dog and a parakeet named Gabby with him in the White House. Little is known about either one, except that Gabby remains in the White House today; after the bird died in 1957, it was buried on the grounds of the executive mansion.
John F. Kennedy: Dogs and Macaroni the Horse
Like many presidents before him, John F. Kennedy had a collection of dogs, including a wolfhound, a German shepherd, a Welsh terrier, a French poodle, and an Irish cocker spaniel. But it was a horse named Macaroni that photographers couldn’t get enough of.
A gift to John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, from President Lyndon B. Johnson, Macaroni became a cultural sensation, appearing with Caroline on the cover of Life magazine, which brought thousands of fan letters and inspired Neil Diamond to write "Sweet Caroline."
Lyndon B. Johnson: Him and Her the Dogs
Lyndon Johnson’s presidency was largely in the news for the Vietnam War, but he did famously pose for Life magazine with his beagles, Him and Her. The photo, which featured LBJ pulling on Him’s ears, caused public outrage.
Still, Him and Her led a pretty good life as they rode along in the president’s car, snoozed in the Oval Office, and swam in the White House pool.
Richard Nixon: Checkers the Dog
When Richard Nixon was embroiled in a campaign controversy, he pawed at America’s heart by introducing his dog on national television. Checkers, an adorable black and white cocker spaniel puppy, was a gift from a campaign supporter that Nixon vowed to keep no matter what happened.
His plan worked: Checkers garnered widespread support and became a national celebrity. Though the cocker spaniel died before the presidential election, Nixon would go on to have few other dogs in the White House.
Gerald Ford: Liberty the Dog
Gerald Ford had one of the shortest presidencies, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying time in the White House with his patriotically named golden retriever, Liberty. Ford famously took Liberty for walks on the White House lawn, sometimes in a robe and slippers.
Liberty became a national celebrity when she was bred with another goldie and gave birth to nine puppies at the White House. The public went wild; if only the president himself had the same popularity.
Jimmy Carter: Misty Malarky Ying Yang the Cat
Jimmy Carter was respected as a common man, a humble peanut farmer who made it all the way to the presidency—but one thing that wasn’t common about Carter was the name for his cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang.
Misty was a smart and playful Siamese cat who enjoyed meowing to the sounds of the violin and was fed steak and seafood from the White House kitchen. Though Misty had a typically female moniker, he was actually a male.
Ronald Reagan: Rex the Dog
Ronald Regan’s pack of dogs included an Irish setter, a Siberian husky, and a golden retriever, but a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Rex stole the show.
The media was fascinated by Rex’s constant barking outside of the Lincoln bedroom, which he refused to enter, adding fuel to the rumor that the room was haunted. Rex also made national headlines when he underwent a tonsillectomy in 1986. At the end of Regan’s second term, Rex was presented with a lavish doghouse modeled after the White House.
George H.W. Bush: Millie the Dog
President George H.W. Bush’s dog, Millie, is the only pet on our list who’s also a bestselling author; Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush topped the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list in 1992.
The book focuses on a day in the life of Millie, including attending morning briefings with President Bush and hunting for squirrels. Millie also became a television star, appearing on Murphy Brown, Wings, and Who’s the Boss. After her death, the Bush family honored her with the 15-acre Millie Bush Bark Park in Houston.
George W. Bush: Barney the Dog
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree with George W. Bush; like his father, the president loved dogs. His pets included Spot (son of Millie), Miss Beazley, Willie—and breakout star Barney.
The Scottish Terrier became famous for his antics, which included guarding the White House like a Secret Service agent, greeting foreign dignitaries, and leading Christmas tours. He had his own website and webcam, too!
Outside of the White House, Barney loved to go fishing with the president, hunt armadillos, and chase golf balls.
Bill Clinton: Socks the Cat
Perhaps the most famous feline in White House history, Socks caused a media frenzy during the Clinton years. A stray cat who jumped into Chelsea Clinton’s arms, Socks became an instant hit with reporters, who reportedly tried to lure him to their cameras with catnip. He was the subject of books and songs, written into popular TV shows, and even appeared as a muppet alongside Kermit the Frog. Talk about flattery!
In his downtime, the cat liked resting on the president’s shoulders and joining Hillary Clinton as she visited children in local hospitals.
Barack Obama: Bo the Dog
When running for president, Barack Obama made a very important promise: He told his daughters, Sasha and Malia, that they’d get a puppy if he won. Enter Bo, a loveable Portuguese water dog who quickly seized the spotlight.
Bo became a social media darling, starred in children’s books, and was featured in a campaign video during the president’s reelection. As the video said, everyone wanted to “throw a bone to Bo.”
Barack Obama: Sunny the Dog
Sunny, also a Portuguese water dog, joined the Obamas a few years after Bo. According to the president, she was a bit “friskier'' than her brother and often got into mischief. Sunny was known to sneak away and soil the White House floors, but at least she didn’t do that during her visit with The Pope and other dignitaries.
In 2016, Sunny and Bo became the first presidential pets to be involved in a dog knapping plot. Thankfully, neither were harmed.
Donald J. Trump: No Pets
Trump became the first president in 120 years to forsake a pet, saying he didn’t have the time for one.
Joe Biden: Champ and Major the Dogs
President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden’s two German shepherds, Major and Champ, marked a return to pets after a four-year absence during the Trump administration.
Champ, who joined the Biden family in 2008, is no stranger to life in the spotlight. As a vice-presidential pet, he spent eight years at Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the vice president. According to the president, Champ took his role very seriously and acted like he was part of the Secret Service.
Major, on the other hand, is still adjusting. The first shelter dog to live in the White House, Major was involved in two biting incidents in less than a month. Still, having had German Shepherds since he was a kid, President Biden carries a soft spot for the pooch. The first family has enlisted further obedience training in the hopes of avoiding a “Major” problem.