The history of White House pets

The history of White House pets
Source: Clinton Presidential Library & Museum, Barbara Kinney

Across the United States and the world, people are anticipating a January 2021 change of occupancy for the White House – and with it a welcome addition to the first family with president- elect Biden’s two dogs. Having pets in the White House has been a tradition for more than 200 years, beginning with President George Washington’s many horses and dogs. Getting to know the White House pets has delighted generations and humanized US presidents through a shared love of these adorable family mascots.

Source: Westervelt Warner Museum of American Art, John Faed

Notably, president Trump’s stay in the White House did not include any family pets, and many Americans missed this fun glimpse into the softer side of the first family. Being petless, however, is absolutely the exception and not the rule for most US presidents. Some families have had more pets than others, and with each new political turn, intrigue over the animals accompanying these important politicians into the White House has piqued the interest of pet-lovers everywhere. As we await the arrival of the Biden family’s furry friends, enjoy this walk through the history of White House pets and learn more about the soon-to-be first pets of the president-elect.

The history of White House pets

All the way back to the 1880s, we have photos of beloved canines joining their humans at the White House, starting with President Grover Cleveland in 1885. He got married for the first time after becoming president, and his wife promptly received three dachshunds as a gift. They were also known for having a few other dogs, one of which was a terrier named Millie.

history of White House pets
Source: Library of Congress

Eventually, the White House pets became well-known figures themselves beginning in 1920 with Laddie Boy, President Warren Harding’s dog, an Airedale Terrier who was often covered by the press and also used as a poster child for the first lady’s advocacy for animal rights. Later on that decade, presidential candidate Herbert Hoover managed to gain the nation’s affection during his campaign due to a widely circulated promotional photo of him and his famous pup King Tut, a Belgian shepherd.

history of White House pets
Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

One of the most famous historic White House pups belonged to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While president Roosevelt had a German shepherd as well, his Scottish terrier, Fala, gained notoriety for his frequent appearances on the president’s trips across the country. Once, the adored Scotty was actually left behind on a trip to the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Opponents criticized the president for sending ships back to rescue Fala, but the move ended up earning him even more love from Americans, as many could relate to his demonstration of love for the family pet.

All of the American presidents in the 20th century were pet owners, and some branched out with more than just dogs and cats. President John F. Kennedy had a virtual menagerie for his stay in the White House. With president Kennedy and his family came five horses, five dogs (one of which gave birth to four puppies), one cat, three birds, two hamsters and one rabbit. One of the Kennedy family dogs, Pushinka, was famously a puppy of Strelka, a dog that went to space through the Soviet space program and a gift from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961.

Recent White House pets

In the past few decades, the first pets have been of the canine and feline varieties, and all of them have enjoyed substantial celebrity followings from people in the US and across the globe. President George H.W. Bush had two springer spaniels named Millie and Ranger who delighted young visitors to the White House, and to which he wasn’t afraid to give affection, showcasing the softer side of an intellectual, business-minded president. After the first president Bush, the Clinton family entered the White House with Socks the cat. Eventually, president Clinton also added fan-favorite, Buddy the Labrador retriever to the mix.

president Obama's dog, Bo
Source: The White House, Chuck Kennedy

The year 2000 saw a second president Bush as George W. Bush entered the office for the next two terms alongside his three dogs and a cat. One of President George W. Bush’s pups was even the offspring of Millie, his father’s famous First Pet. Following his terms came eight years of President Barack Obama who entered the White House with young daughters who had not yet enjoyed their first pet. Due to one of the girls’ animal allergies, the Obamas chose to find a hypoallergenic dog breed – the Portuguese water dog – and they adopted the family’s first pup, Bo, after president Obama’s first term began. A few years later, Bo got an adopted sister when the family added a second Portuguese water dog, Sunny.

Biden’s dogs join the ranks

When the Bidens move into the White House in 2021, they will bring with them two adorable new first pets. president-elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden have two German shepherds, Champ, age 12, and Major, age 2. Pet rescue advocates are especially thrilled to welcome Major, as he will be the first White House dog to be adopted. Major was adopted from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018.

It’s safe to say that many Americans are looking forward to pets being a regular fixture in the first family again. The Biden family’s dogs were included in various campaign materials, and the pets marked a stark contrast between the Democratic nominee and president Trump.

Animal advocates in many countries shared messages of congratulations on their social media accounts when the news began to roll out that a new family of pet-lovers would soon be in the White House. While pets are not a part of every household, most everyone can appreciate the love a human has for their animals. And for those of us who are pet owners – we are looking forward to seeing a family that shares this love for animals in the White House once again.

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