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First Companions: A Partial List of Presidential Pets

Ron in Brighton, MA
Sept. 20, 2016

Are you a dog person? A cat lover? Maybe neither? These are tough questions, and people have very strong feelings about the issue. Some are adamantly pro-dog, some staunchly pro-cat. Some see the advantages and disadvantages of each. Others like ferrets. This fraught topic is as charged as any political discussion, not unlike the current contentious presidential race.

Speaking of presidents, most residents of the Oval Office have been accompanied by pets. Whatever you feel about their human companions, the presidential pets thankfully have not been as controversial as their owners. Well, mostly.

Let’s take a look at some of them:

  • Sunny and Bo: Barack Obama told Sasha and Malia that they’d get a dog after the 2008 election. The promised pup, Bo, was a gift from Ted Kennedy. A few years later, Bo was joined by Sunny. The current canine occupants of the White House are Portuguese Water Dogs, and they love to hang out on the South Lawn. They also often make public appearances, such as visiting kids in hospitals and greeting White House visitors.
  • Buddy and Socks: Do y’all remember Buddy, Bill Clinton’s chocolate Lab? When he wasn’t at the president’s side, he would spar with Socks the Cat, the real star of the show—a cat so famous he even tried to give a press conference! The two received lots of fan mail and even published a book—Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets.
Socks faces the press, addressing feline policy questions
  • Millie: George H. W. Bush’s English Springer Spaniel, Millie, was also published. Her memoir, Millie's Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush, shot up to the top of the charts, reaching #1 on The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction. Pretty good for a first-time four-legged writer!
  • Spotty: One of Millie’s sons, Spot Fetcher, followed George W. Bush to the White House. “Spotty,” as he was more commonly called, was so obedient that Bush often took him to official meetings. I wonder what level clearance he got?
  • Poll: Presidential pets included more than cats and dogs—horses, goats, and even a couple of bears made it to the White House, too. Parrots were popular with early presidents, including George Washington, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. Jackson used to swear a lot—and his parrot, Poll, repeated the profanities. After Jackson died, Poll came to the funeral. The parrot swore so much during the proceedings that he was kicked out. In fairness, it sounds like Poll was delivering an appropriate eulogy.
  • Him and Her: On another notorious note, Lyndon Johnson had two Beagles, Him and Her. The president loved the well-tempered dogs, but he angered dog lovers—even the ASPCA—after being photographed lifting Him by the ears. In the end, LBJ issued a public apology. (Note: Do not lift a dog by the ears.)
  • Fala: Back to positive presidential pet perspectives: last but not least, perhaps the most popular first companion was Fala, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier. Fala was adored by the public and celebrated by the press, often photographed hanging out with Roosevelt or sitting on his lap. He joined the president at conferences, met Churchill, and received so much fan mail that he needed his own secretary. After Fala died, he was buried near Roosevelt’s grave. Fala was such an important part of Roosevelt’s life and image that he is even immortalized as part of the FDR memorial in Washington, D.C.

So, let’s remember that in these trying times, we always have our four-legged—or winged—companions to rely on. Politics makes for good furry fellows. As Harry Truman says in the play Give 'em Hell, Harry, "You want a friend in life, get a dog!"


FDR Memorial: the president with his faithful companion
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