- Many of the 45 presidents of the United States have been animal lovers, with pet choices far beyond the ordinary run of cats and dogs.
- Some were given exotic pets by foreign dignitaries, with President John Quincy Adams keeping an alligator in a bathtub.
- President Martin van Buren fought Congress to keep two tiger cubs.
- Other presidents have bought farmyard animals to live on the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep, and JFK’s daughter had a pony.
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Many of the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have been animal lovers, with the hallowed presidential tradition of keeping a pet in the White House stretching back to its very first occupant, John Adams.
The most popular pet by some way is a dog, owned by 30 of the 45 presidents.
Some have even gone on to be famous in their own right – Barack Obama’s dog Bo was a frequent star of White House photo ops.
But some presidents have brought somewhat more exotic pets with them to the White House, with Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge owning a large menageries during their times.
Below, Business Insider looks at seven of the strangest.
A dog named Satan
OK, so the choice of pet itself isn’t exactly unusual. But the name certainly is.
John Adams was the second US president, but the first to reside in the White House. He brought his collection of creatively named pets with him.
Among them were a pair of mongrel dogs named Juno and Satan, and a horse named Cleopatra.
The reason for the president chosing that name for his dog is lost to history.
Source: Presidential Pet Museum
An alligator in the bath tub
During an 1825 tour of the United States, French revolutionary hero the Marquis de Lafayette visited the White House.
He had an unusual gift for then president John Quincy Adams: an alligator.
Adams decided to lodge the reptile in the then-unfinished East Room of the White House, which had its own bath tub.
According to White House legend he would freak out unsuspecting visitors on tours of the residence by showing them into the room with the alligator.
Source: Presidential Pet Museum, CNN
A foul-mouthed parrot called Poll
President Andrew Jackson was an ex-soldier born in a Tennessee log cabin, known for his love of swearing.
When he was elected president in 1830 he brought his pet parrot, Poll, with him – and it seems the bird picked up some of the president’s own salty vocabulary.
According to contemporary accounts, at Jackson’s own funeral service at the family residence the bird started loudly shrieking swear words so offensive it had to be taken away.
Source: Presidential Pet Museum
Two tiger cubs
Martin van Buren, Jackson’s successor, was also gifted wild beasts as a pet by a foreign dignitary.
This time, it was two tiger cubs, given to him by the Sultan of Oman.
Van Buren loved the animals, and battled Congress to be allowed to keep them in the White House.
Congress argued that the cubs had been gifted to the United States, not Buren personally, and that it was up to Congress to decide what to do with them.
Van Buren argued that they had been given to him and that he wanted to keep them.
In the end, Congress won and the cubs were removed from the White House and placed in a Washington zoo.
Sheep on the White House lawn
It’s not just exotic animals like tigers, alligators, and parrots that have made the White House their home. Farm animals have also had their turn.
To cut lawn-cutting costs in the White House during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson brought in a flock of sheep to graze the lawns and keep the grass trim. Among them, a tobacco chewing ram called Old Ike.
A pet raccoon called Rebecca
President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Coolidge had menagerie of animals living with them during their time in the White House, including a donkey, a bobcat, and geese.
Among the best-loved was a raccoon called Rebecca.
The animal had been sent to the White House from Tennessee to be part of the first family’s Thanksgiving meal. But they took a liking to the animal and instead she became a beloved – if mischievous – family pet.
White House staff reportedly weren’t so keen on Rebecca, due to her habit of clambering onto furniture, damaging expensive upholstery with her claws.
Source: The Washington Post
Macaroni, the White House pony
One of the most famous pets in White House history is Macaroni, the pony that belonged to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline.
The pony was a present from then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and became a well-known sight on White House grounds, where it roamed freely.
Caroline and the pony featured in a Life magazine spread on the first family, and singer-songwriter Neil Diamond claimed that the images inspired his hit song “Sweet Caroline.”
Source: The Daily Mail