Over the course of the United States' presidential history, well over 200 pets have resided in, or on the grounds of, the White House with the First Family. Our current First Dog, Bo, could even be considered mundane by the standards of some of our previous First Pets. In honor of Presidents Day, let’s take a look back at some of the more interesting pets the American people have had the pleasure of knowing.
But rather than trying to choose which pets were best — we can’t! — let us just start with the first president…
Perhaps with their husband’s long working hours, they needed a pet they could really talk to. Both George Washington (1789-1797) and James Madison’s (1809-1817) wives, Martha and Dolly, respectively, had parrots.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) liked having a resident bird as well. He had a pet Mockingbird.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) had one of the more unusual and, arguably, dangerous pets: an alligator that had been gifted to him by the Marquis de Lafayette.
Not to be outdone by her husband’s eccentric pet, First Lady Mrs. Louisa Adams kept silkworms as pets.
Before Washington, D.C. became the bustling urban capitol it is today, there was a little more of a provincial feel to the White House grounds, so perhaps it wasn’t so unusual in 1841 to have a Billy goat and a Durham cow residing at the presidential palace, courtesy of William Henry Harrison.
James Buchanan (1857-1861) was the lucky recipient of a herd of elephants — given by the King of Siam. Unlike the case with President Van Buren, who was told by Congress to donate his tiger cubs to the zoo (he did), President Buchanan got to keep his gift. He kept one elephant at the White House, along with his pair of Bald Eagles and his "very large" Newfoundland dog.
Rutherford Hayes (1877-1881) can be said to have brought the Siamese cat breed to America, since he was the first to own one. So at the time, it was quite the exotic cat to have. He also kept a small menagerie that included Jersey cows, a goat, canaries, a mockingbird, and various other animals.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), would be at #1 if this was a list for the most pets. He had a living zoo on the White House grounds. Most notably: snakes, badger, lion, hyena, zebra, and five bears. And that is not counting the "normal" pets, like the dogs, cats, horses, birds, rats and guinea pigs.
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) kept a herd of sheep on the White House grounds — much like Google and others still do today — for lawn maintenance.
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) may have been inspired by his predecessor, President Roosevelt; he also had a large collection of pets at the White House — another real zoo. He had a wide assortment of dog breeds, but he also had a number of bird species, domesticated raccoons (one is said to have walked on a leash), a bobcat, wallaby, pygmy hippo, and a bear.