Serving as President of the United States is a thankless job that comes with its own kind of stress and anxiety and frustration. It is fitting that we officially honor all of our presidents in February on Presidents’ Day.
It’s no surprise to us animal lovers that most presidents have enjoyed the company of a family pet or two during their time in the White House. The animals help to relieve some of the tension in the hectic lives that come with the job. Their dogs love them unconditionally, their cats don’t offer political advice, and their goldfish never leak secrets to the press.
Some of our most serious, stoic presidents have been known to become different individuals when they were around their furry friends. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln loved cats and had a special soft spot in his heart for stray cats?
According to the Presidential Pet Museum website, Lincoln was known to bring stray cats home on occasion. Mrs. Lincoln even referred to cats as her husband’s “hobby.”
After he was elected president, Lincoln made the decision to leave his beloved dog, Fido, back home with family friends in Springfield, Illinois. But he wasn’t without a pet for long. Secretary of State William Seward gave the president two kittens that Lincoln 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. The Presidential Pet Museum goes on to report that at one point during his first term, Lincoln allegedly commented that, “Dixie is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore, she doesn’t talk back!”
FDR and Fala
One president, in particular, went to great extremes to come to the rescue of his canine companion. In 1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for his unprecedented fourth term when rumors floated that his Scottish Terrier, Fala, had accidentally been left behind in the Aleutian Islands where FDR had been visiting.
The National Constitution Center notes that after allegedly sending back ships to rescue his dog, Roosevelt was ridiculed and accused of spending thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to get the dog.
The president responded in a speech, “You can criticize me, my wife, and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog. He’s Scotch and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious.” Roosevelt was re-elected, and the rest is history.
President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, had many dogs during their White House years. According to the book, First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Best Friends, the First Lady’s favorite was a white collie named Rob Roy that she insisted on posing with for an official portrait.
Mrs. Coolidge’s vivid red dress she selected for the sitting is a stark contrast to the handsome all-white dog. The portrait is striking, and today it hangs in the China Room of the White House.
President Coolidge loved animals and even had a pet raccoon that he walked on a leash. He also had a cat named Tiger, and one day, according to the book, The Last Cow on the White House Lawn, little Tiger went missing.
The President contacted local radio stations to broadcast a missing cat bulletin. The cat was eventually found, but ran away again and never returned. (Perhaps he was jealous of the raccoon.)
You may recall the beautiful Millie, a springer spaniel that moved into the White House with President George and Barbara Bush. Millie gained great popularity of her own when she authored her “dogobiography”, Millie’s Book that soared to the top of the bestseller lists.
Many years later, President George H.W. Bush and a dog were again in the news. Following the death of his wife, Barbara, George enjoyed the company of Sully, a yellow Labrador retriever. Sully could open doors, pick up items, and summon help but more than anything else, he was a wonderful companion.
When President Bush died this past year, Sully brought tears to the eyes of dog lovers everywhere when he was photographed lying next to the casket of his human; his loyalty and unconditional love were quite apparent.
Before he died, the president made his wishes known regarding his canine companion, and today Sully is working with veterans with post traumatic stress and serving as a therapy dog for those needing his assistance.
Yes, presidents are human too, and almost every White House resident has had a pet or two to keep them grounded and to serve as a reminder that pets are the great common denominator in this crazy, mixed-up world.