The Bizarre History of White House Pets
Between raccoons, hippos, dogs, bobcats and even bears, there’s a long history of traditional and less traditional White House pets and we’ve rounded up some of our favorites…
Calvin Coolidge: The Zoo and Billy
Calvin Coolidge had his own zoo: twelve dogs, a few birds, a goose, a couple of cats, raccoons, a donkey, a bobcat, a black bear, a wallaby and a pygmy hippopotamus. Exotic, right? Well, you might be wondering what a pygmy hippo is – we are too. This rare animal hails from Liberia and was gifted to Coolidge by Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone Tires and American businessman. The hippo’s name was Billy.
Coolidge donated Billy (yes, all 6-foot, 600-pound) to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park because he was one of the few remaining in the United States. He was the father of 23 baby pygmy hippos, which now make up the majority of pygmy hippos in zoos. Watch out for Billy’s family the next time you visit your local zoo!
The Coolidges also donated their raccoon Rebecca to the Smithsonian. She was originally supposed to be part of their Thanksgiving meal, so I think we can agree she did fine considering the circumstances.
Theodore Roosevelt: Bleistein and Pete
Dogs, horses and snakes – oh my! President Theodore Roosevelt, who served eight years, had his fair share of animals during his tenure. Roosevelt had many horses, a pony, dogs, snakes, kangaroo rats, badgers, cats, a squirrel, guinea pigs, a lion, a hyena, a wild cat, bears, parrots, a zebra, a lizard, a pig – the list could go for his full two terms.
They say never pick favorites, but Roosevelt couldn’t resist. His best friend was his pet horse Bleistein, given to him by his friend George Bleistein. Roosevelt liked to take his horses to the edge of the brook and Bleistein was his ideal companion. Roosevelt always said that Bleistein was brave and had a good nature.
There was also Pete. Pete was a headline-grabbing bull terrier, but not always for the right reasons. He was loved and adored by the Roosevelt family, but had too many biting incidents when it came to White House staffers. They eventually returned the dog to the family home in Sagamore Hill.
John F. Kennedy: Zsa Zsa
President John F. Kennedy was also known for his collection of animals – not as exotic as Coolidge’s, but still abundant. He was the proud owner of several dogs and a cat. He also took care of a canary, parakeets, ponies, horses, hamsters and a rabbit.
The rabbit, Zsa Zsa, was given to the first family by a magician. Zsa Zsa had outgrown the magician’s hat and could no longer perform magic tricks. However, she deserved her time as a resident of the White House – Believe It or Not!, Zsa Zsa could play the first five bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a toy trumpet (or so the word on Pennsylvania Ave.).
The Bush Family: Barney, Miss Beazley and India
Their legacy lives on as owners of some of the White House’s most lovable pets. Say hello to Barney, Miss Beazley and India. The Bush family definitely scores high in the name game.
Both Barney and Miss Beazley were Scottish terriers who led lavish lives in the presidential suite. They were basically pets. Not only did they have websites, but they also appeared in videos produced by the White House. Next stop: Hollywood.
In addition to the two puppies, there was also a cat named India, aka “Willie”. It was named after Texas Rangers player Ruben “El Indio” Sierra, who was on the roster while George W. Bush owned the team.
Martin Van Buren: a duo of little tigers
tiger king better to give credit where credit is due. The OG Tiger King was also the eighth President of the United States – Martin Van Buren. He was gifted these big cats by the Sultan of Oman and was instructed by Congress to donate them to the zoo. Goodbye to all the nice cats and kittens!
Lyndon B. Johnson: Him and Her
There were six dogs in total during Johnson’s presidency, but the most notable duo was Him and Her. This pair of beagles were lounging in their pimped doghouse. Johnson upgraded the White House doghouse for her furry friends, Extreme Home Makeover style. There was a lot more room for the puppies to run, sleep and play.
Joe and Jill Biden: Willow and Commander
Willow the cat had been White House hardware ever since she took the stage during Jill Biden’s 2020 campaign speech. There was no denying she would make the perfect first pet. Willow’s original owner gifted the cat to the Bidens and the rest was history.
The Biden family also began their White House residency with two German Shepherds, Major, who was sent to live with friends after a few unprecedented bites, and Champ, who died soon after. Don’t worry though – The Bidens adopted Commander, another German Shepherd to ensure they were in good company.
By Sam McCormack, contributor for Ripleys.com
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Source: The Bizarre History of White House Pets