EVERY PRESIDENT SINCE GEORGE WASHINGTON HAS HAD PETS, SAVE TWO: Andrew Johnson, who served from 1865-1869; and Donald Trump. Johnson was the first president to be impeached in 1868 because he opposed legislation benefiting former slaves and argued for more lenient reconstruction policies. He was acquitted in the Senate, where the vote was one shy of a two-thirds majority. Trump was the last president to be impeached – twice – and also acquitted in the Senate. Coincidence?
OK, sure, the other impeached president had pets: Bill Clinton had Socks the cat and later Buddy the dog, reportedly acquired because advisers thought it would improve his image after the Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light. Didn’t save him with Congress but might have boosted his Q-rating among the public. For show or real, Americans like to see others who love animals as much as they do and it can endear a leader to their followers, especially when a real affection for First Pets shines through.
After four years absent the sounds and sights of pets inside the White House, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed 13-year-old Champ and 3-year-old rescue Major to their new home in January. Their barks, heard from outside the Oval Office as if on cue while Biden signed an executive order ending the ban on transgender people serving in the military, caused a bit a media sensation. There were reports Jill Biden wants to bring a cat into the White House but no official word on when that will happen. (The last cat in residence was George W. Bush’s India “Willie” Bush.)
You can follow along with the adventures of Champ and Major on several Twitter accounts. One, @TheFirstDogs, identifies the dogs as “He/Him/Good Boi x 2” and links to the donation page of the Delaware Humane Association. It features photos of the dogs enjoying the luxurious lawn or in the Oval Office, paired with cheeky comments. Recently, Champ tweeted a photo of himself on the carpet during a meeting with mask-wearing people, and the caption: “Told Major humans keep snacks in those face things. He’s gone to find a dogo sized one.” They also like to retweet other cute dogs, and squirrels are a popular topic.
We love seeing dogs and cats in the White House, but some earlier presidents kept veritable zoos on the White House grounds, including exotic varieties. George Washington (pre-White House) had mostly dogs and horses, while his wife Martha had Snipe the parrot, and the king of Spain sent an Andalusian donkey. Thomas Jefferson was gifted two grizzly bear cubs (they were sent to a museum) and kept his beloved mockingbird named Dick. Martin Van Buren received tiger cubs from the Sultan of Oman (later sent to a zoo). Benjamin Harrison had two alligators. Theodore Roosevelt had one of the biggest menageries of all the presidents, including guinea pigs, a lizard, a hyena (another foreign gift) and a one-legged rooster named Fierce.
There are some endearing stories to come out of all those First Pets, including memorable anecdotes from Abraham Lincoln. His son Tad famously saved the Christmas dinner turkey from the axe. He named the turkey Jack. Lincoln had horses, goats, dogs and two cats, Tabby and Dixie. Lincoln was quoted as saying that Dixie “is smarter than my whole Cabinet.”