The illustrious tradition of keeping pets in the White House dates back to Thomas Jefferson, who kept a mockingbird and a couple of bear cubs during his presidency. Throughout the years, presidential pets became celebrities of sorts.
“It softens their image, it broadens their appeal,” Ed Lengel, chief historian at the White House Historical Association, told CNN. “They help create an atmosphere of the White House as a family, a lived-in place and not just a stiff museum, but a place where a family lives and plays and enjoys each other’s company.”
For an image-conscious President, Trump seems to be in little rush to add a furry friend to the White House brood, making his the only first family in modern presidential history without a pet.
“There are no plans at this time” to add a pet to the first family, East Wing communications director Stephanie Grisham told CNN.
Trump lived with a poodle, Chappy, with his first wife, Ivana, who wrote in her memoir, “Raising Trump,” that “Donald was not a dog fan.”
“When I told him I was bringing Chappy with me to New York, he said, ‘No,’ ” she wrote. “‘It’s me and Chappy or no one!’ I insisted, and that was that.”
Chappy, she later said, “had an equal dislike of Donald.”
White House pets: a history
The early history of White House pets was not well-documented, but included farm animals, hunting dogs and horses in stables on White House grounds, and many animals that were given as gifts.
President James Buchanan was reportedly given a herd of elephants, and President Martin Van Buren received a pair of tiger cubs. Congress made Van Buren give the cubs to a local zoo, according to Andrew Hager, historian in residence at the Presidential Pet Museum, a collection of presidential pet memorabilia located outside Baltimore and open by appointment.
Lengel said that while it hasn’t been documentarily confirmed, there is circumstantial evidence President John Quincy Adams was given an alligator.
“It’s reputed that John Quincy Adams was given an alligator as a gift and he didn’t quite know what to do with it,” Lengel said, noting that he kept it in the East Room for a number of months. Adams clearly wasn’t interested in draining the swamp.
President Woodrow Wilson kept a flock of sheep and a ram on the White House lawn, and President William Taft had a Holstein cow, Pauline Wayne, who later retired to Wisconsin, according to the Historical Society of Washington.
Though Presidents had kept pets for years, Warren Harding’s dog, Laddie Boy, an Airedale terrier, had his own chair in the Roosevelt Room for Cabinet meetings and became the first “celebrity” pet in the early 1920s, Lengel said. Laddie Boy presided over the Easter Egg Roll, and once sat on a jury of children from a local nature club who put the White House owls on trial for murder. (The owls were found innocent.)
At the interest of intrepid White House journalists and their readers, the presidential pet became a high-profile beat. During the 1920s, Americans would send pet ambassadors to the White House.
“It became kind of a trend in the twenties to see what kind of wacky animals could be brought,” Lengel said.
President Calvin Coolidge’s wife, Grace, became fond of one such wacky animal, a raccoon she named “Rebecca,” whom she walked on a leash. She also adopted an opossum.
President Theodore Roosevelt had a bull dog named Pete who made headlines and nearly caused an international incident when he tore the pants off the French ambassador. When the bulldog attacked White House staff and secretaries, “Pete had to be exiled,” Lengel said.
Roosevelt, who had nearly 30 pets, also had a pony, Algonquin. When his son, Archie, was sick with the measles, they brought the pony up the White House elevator and into his bedroom. Archie jumped and startled the pony, which slipped and fell on the floor.
“Roosevelt just loved this kind of pandemonium with children and pets in the White House,” Lengel said.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s pup, Fala, traveled frequently and was the subject of a short MGM film about World War II on the home front. Fala frequently received received letters from people across the country, per the White House Historical Association.
The Kennedy family White House was home to Macaroni the pony, multiple horses, the hamsters Debbie and Billy, dogs, parakeets, a canary, Zsa Zsa the rabbit and a cat.
“That was part of the whole family image of the White House that he (President John F. Kennedy) and the first lady were so brilliant at producing,” said Lengel.
In more recent years, presidential pets have been more traditional, mostly dogs and cats.
George W. and Laura Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney, starred in a series of “Barney Cam” videos alongside fellow terrier, Miss Beazley. There was so much demand for Barney content that the White House created a website, “Barney.gov.”
And Portuguese water dogs Bo and Sunny Obama were frequent fixtures at White House events.
Over the years, presidential pets have become beloved figures in American history.
“It allows a connection between the average citizen and the person in power,” Hager said. “Generally, we tend to look at these people and see them as removed from us, but we know if they have a pet, we’re on the same playing field. Getting down on the floor with a dog humanizes the politician. … It’s a window into the person’s soul in a way you don’t get at a press briefing or a campaign ad.”
The Pence menagerie
While the Trumps have yet to fill the White House grounds with any pets, Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence have a veritable menagerie at the Naval Observatory.
When the Pences traveled from Indiana to Washington days before the inauguration, they disembarked with cats Pickle and Oreo, plus rabbit Marlon Bundo. Bundo, who has his own Instagram account, has become an icon in the rabbit world, even appearing at an event alongside the vice president.
Days before the election, the family lost their beloved 13-year-old beloved beagle, Maverick.
Less than a year later, cat Oreo joined Maverick in pet heaven.
“Rest in peace Oreo. You touched a lot of hearts in your little life. Our family will miss you very much,” Karen Pence tweeted alongside photos of the black and white cat.
But Marlon Bundo and Pickle weren’t the only pets for long; one week later, the vice president, second lady, and daughter Charlotte traveled to their home state of Indiana, where kitten Hazel and Australian shepherd puppy Harley joined the brood.
The second lady also unveiled a beehive at the Naval Observatory, now home to more than 35,000 bees.