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Presidential pets are one of the few political topics you can discuss these days without generating heated disagreement and ill-will. No matter what your political leanings are, one thing for sure is that Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike seem to love their pets.

Almost all of the U.S. presidents have had at least one pet while living in the White House, and many have had more than one during their years in the official residence. Apparently, our current president is one of the very few who has held the office who does not have a pet.

You may have heard the stories about Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier, Fala; Richard Nixon’s cocker spaniel, Checkers; John Kennedy’s pony, Macaroni; George H.W. Bush’s springer spaniel, Millie; Bill Clinton’s cat, Socks; and Teddy Roosevelt’s menagerie that included a one-legged rooster, a macaw, dogs, cats and a small black bear that eventually was re-homed at the Bronx Zoo.

President Abraham Lincoln had a beloved dog, Fido, that was an important member of his family. According to the National Park Service that manages the Lincoln family home in Springfield, Ill., Lincoln was worried that the family’s move to Washington D.C. would be too hard on their furry friend, so two neighborhood boys promised to take good care of Fido.

Lincoln instructed them to never scold Fido for coming in the house with muddy paws and to feed him from the table. The mixed breed canine outlived Lincoln, but he, too, met a tragic end when he was stabbed to death by the town drunk.

The “Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom” website states that Lincoln’s step-mother testified that the young Lincoln loved animals. Even insects elicited his compassion. While his parents went to church, he preached his own sermons to his step-family. “Abe preached against cruelty to animals, contending that an ant’s life was to it as sweet as ours,” recalled his step-sister.

During a recent conversation with Laureen Riedesel, director of the Beatrice Public Library, I learned that Lincoln had a real affinity for stray cats and could play with them for hours. Laureen, a great cat lover herself, said that Lincoln even made concerted efforts to find homes for them by giving them to folks who came into his Springfield law office.

According to the Park Service, when Mary Todd Lincoln was asked if her husband had a hobby, she replied: “cats.”

In March of 1865, President Lincoln visited General Grant at City Point, Va. The Civil War was drawing to a close and the enormous task of reuniting the country lay ahead. In the midst of all this, Lincoln noticed three stray kittens in the telegraph hut. When he asked about their mother, he learned that she was dead. Without hesitation, he made sure the kittens would be fed and that a good home would be found for them.

Information from the Presidential Pet Museum reports that Secretary of State William Seward surprised Lincoln with a gift of two kittens that he named “Tabby” and “Dixie.” He doted on the cats so much that he once fed Tabby from the table during a formal dinner at the White House.

When Mrs. Lincoln scolded her husband for his actions, he replied, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”

One of Lincoln’s friends recalled how the president would pick up one of the cats and “talk to it for half an hour at a time.” The cats apparently won the president over with their quiet adoration, and at one point during his first term, Lincoln was said to have observed in frustration, “Dixie is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore, she doesn’t talk back!”

President Lincoln’s days and nights were filled with stress, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the future of the nation. Apparently, he found some degree of peace and contentment from his beloved feline friends.

Those of us who know and love our cats can relate to the president’s feelings. Playing with a cat, holding one in your lap or talking to one about the frustrations of a stressful day can all help to relax a harried human.

If you would like to welcome a cat into your home and discover why President Lincoln loved his furry friends, stop by the Beatrice Animal Shelter to meet the cat or kitten of your dreams.

And if this is not the right time for you to adopt, check back in two or three months when kitten season will be in full swing. The shelter will have an amazing array of cats in a variety of colors, sizes, ages and personalities.

Beatrice Animal Shelter cats are also available for adoption at the two PetSmart locations in Lincoln, so if you are in Lincoln, stop in for a meet and greet. What a purr-fect idea!

This column was written by Bette Anne Thaut, board member of the Beatrice Humane Society.


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