President’s day was earlier this week and not only have we had many families living in the White House, there has also been a long list of pets that have graced its grounds as well. From George Washington’s dogs Drunkard and Tipsy, to our current first dogs Bo and Sunny there has been a long list of first animals and some of them are very uncommon.
John Adams was the first president to actually live in the White House. He was an animal lover and built the first White House stables. Thomas Jefferson was often seen walking the halls with his pet mockingbird Dick perched on his shoulder. And Andrew Jackson had a notoriously foul-mouthed parrot named Poll.
James Buchanan owned the largest presidential pet when he was given an elephant by the King of Siam. From there, the list of presidential pets gets bigger, sturdier and stranger. Calvin Coolidge had many unusual companions like lion cubs, bobcats and wallabies. But his biggest and oddest had to be Billy the pygmy hippo that was a present from Harvey Samuel Firestone of Firestone tires. Coolidge donated Billy to the National Zoo where he lived his life.
Herbert Hoover allowed his pet alligators to roam the grounds and John Quincy Adams also kept alligators in his bathrooms to scare his guests. William Howard Taft had such a love for fresh milk and cream that he kept a dairy cow named Pauline Wayne at the White House.
But one of the most surprising yet practical presidential pets was Woodrow Wilson’s pet ram Old Ike. Wilson had the First World War to contend with during his time in office so in an effort to save money and have more recruits he replaced the White House gardeners with a flock of sheep led by Old Ike. The herd of about 48 sheep took care of the grounds and in 1919 their fleece was auctioned off and raised $52,823 for the Red Cross.
Old Ike on the other hand was a force to be reckoned with. In a 1920 newspaper report he was dubbed “forceful and strategic” as he regularly charged staffers. He also had a very bad habit; chewing tobacco and especially cigars he found on the lawn. He eventually became too much to handle and was sent packing from Washington and lived out his life on a farm in Maryland.
The Associated Press reported in 1927, “For some months Ike had been in a decrepit state, requiring assistance getting on his feet. Just before he died Mr. Propert gave him a chew of tobacco, and he dropped off peacefully munching it.”
These past few decades we’ve had more traditional first pets including the Clinton’s cat Boots and chocolate Lab Buddy, George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier Barney and the Obama’s Portuguese water dogs Bo and Sunny. The White House has a long history of pet ownership that looks like it will continue as long as families occupy it.