dog bo, obama family dog, white house dog, white house pets, obama dog bo, Portuguese water dog
AP/Pete Souza
Bo, a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog,
is the Obama family's new pet

White House Life: Bo, the Nation's First Pet

April 13, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Bo, the Obama family's new Portuguese water dog puppy, is the latest on a long list of White House pets. Although White House residents often choose a dog for a companion, some presidents have favored alligators, sheep and other unusual pets.

The Kennedys Give the Obamas a Puppy

This weekend, the news leaked that the Obama family would finally be getting a pet, a Portuguese water dog gifted to them from Senator Ted Kennedy and his wife.

The dog was named by Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia, and will be called "Bo" after a cousin's cat and after their maternal grandfather.

Although it was thought that perhaps the Obama family would rescue a dog, the family will instead officially accept Bo, who has been getting obedience training from the Kennedys, on Tuesday, April 14. The Obamas are expected to donate money to the Humane Society as a gesture to show their support of rescuing shelter dogs.

Dogs of Presidents Past

Throughout history, presidents have been photographed with their dogs in moments of contemplation or rowdy fun, providing a bit of insight into the temperaments of our leaders.

Ronnie Elmore, DVM, and an associate dean at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, claims, "Presidential pets have actually changed presidential history. And they have changed U.S. history."

According to DVM Newsmagazine, during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s run for his fourth term, he gave a speech that referenced his Scottish Terrier, Fala. The Fala Speech (as it came to be known) was a hit, and was later credited with helping FDR get reelected.

President Harry Truman once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” The words rang true for many presidents, including President Bill Clinton. Just a few weeks prior to the Monica Lewinsky debacle hitting the public sphere, Clinton adopted a chocolate Labrador retriever named Buddy. According to CNN, Buddy “was frequently seen at the president's side at the White House and on travels,” illustrating that dogs don’t judge.

Other White House dogs have suffered fates that almost mirrored their masters’, including President Abraham Lincoln’s dog, Fido. According to For the People, a newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association, the Lincoln family left Fido with friends in Springfield, Ill. when they moved to Washington, D.C., fearing that the dog would never survive the long trip. Less than a year after Lincoln’s assassination, Fido tried to play with a drunk man on the street and the man, “in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido.”

Cats in the White House

Cats have also graced the White House. Lincoln’s cat, Tabby, was the first cat in the White House, while President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, brought along a Siamese cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang. President Reagan had a soft spot for strays and took in many, including the eminent Cleo and Sara, both Tortoiseshell strays.

For President Martin Van Buren, cats weren’t enough; he had two tiger cubs, given to him by the Sultan of Oman.

Alligators, Hippos, Sheep, and Other Unusual White House Pets

President Woodrow Wilson practiced what he preached during World War I. While he encouraged the country to save money, he did so by bringing in a flock of sheep to graze on the White House grounds. “Wool from the sheep was sold as a fundraiser for the Red Cross,” reports the White House Historical Association.

When President John F. Kennedy moved into the White House, he brought along his wife, two children, pet hamsters Debbie and Billie, a canary named Robin, and a cat named Tom Kitten. Dogs and parakeets would also come and go but perhaps no Kennedy pet was better known than Macaroni the pony.
President Herbert Hoover’s second son, Allan Henry Hoover, was the owner of a pair of alligators that frequently roamed the White House grounds.

According to the New York Times, President John Quincy Adams was also a fan of the alligator, and kept one in the East Room bathtub. The gator was a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette.

According to the Smithsonian, President Calvin Coolidge had a pygmy hippo named Billy.
Coolidge also enjoyed the company of a raccoon that he received as a gift from a Mississippi voter. The raccoon was meant to be enjoyed as part of Thanksgiving dinner, but Coolidge named her Rebecca and took her on walks around the White House gardens—on a leash, of course.

Rebecca wasn’t the only presidential pet to avoid becoming a holiday dinner. Lincoln’s son, Tad, “befriended” a turkey that was sent to the family for Christmas dinner. According to the White House Historical Association, “The young boy burst into the cabinet meeting in tears and pleaded with his father to pardon the bird from the ‘executioner.’”

Those Presidents Who Had No Pets

“Only rarely did presidents choose to not own pets, and that decision evidently doomed them to obscurity, or worse,” writes columnist Hank Pellissier. Presidents Chester Arthur,  Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore had no pets, Pellissier points out, and they all “epitomize the very definition of a ‘one-term president,’” he writes.

Pellissier’s advice? “[I]f you want to be president, history indicates this ambition can be furthered by placing ‘pet care’ on your to-do list.” These words of wisdom are echoed by Ronnie Elmore, a DVM at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. According to Elmore, when we see our presidents with animals, “It makes them a little more human, a little more like the rest of us.”

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