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Norwich Bulletin - 2/22/2009

The Truth About Presidents and Their Pets

It’s President’s month and since there has been so much talk about President Obama’s dog to be, I decided to look into the lives of past presidents and see what kind of animal people they were. I found that animal companions have a long history in the Whitehouse. Presidents are merely people like you and I, and so some of these pets lived wonderful, happy lives and others die not fare so well. This is a two part column and it deals with cheers and jeers.

We will begin with one of my favorites, John F. Kennedy. He is credited at having the most animals during his White House years. His daughter Caroline owned a Welsh Terrier names Charles and a cute little mutt names Pashinka, who was a gift from the then Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev. There was also a medly of other dogs belonging to the entire family: Shannon, an Irish Cocker Spaniel; Clipper, the German Shepherdl; Wolf, the Irish Wolfhound mix, and Pushinka’s and Charlie’s pups, Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie and Streaker.

I was happy to find out that there was a cat in the midst of all those dogs – Tom kitten, and to keep him occupied they had a canary named Robin, two parakeets named Bluebell and Marybelle, and Debbie and Billie, the two hamsters. Don’t forget Caroline’s beloved Pony, Macaroni (a gift from Lyndon B. Johnson) and his two pony friends, Tex and Leprechaun, along with Sardar, their horse. ZsaZsa the rabbit, finished up the Kennedy menagerie at the White House. The Kennedys took care of their own animals and feeding time was quite a chore. Cheers to the Kennedy clan.

There was a great deal of prejudice against cats in our political process as a great deal of attention was given to the “first dogs” who served the White House. But there was very little press given to our First cats. Cat lovers believe the answer to this mystery is simple, as dogs love attention and will happily show off, while the more reserved cat prefers to stay in the background with their people. But cats were important to many of our Presidents and to the residents of Washington, D.C., where felines began their careers with a full time job as rat catcher.

Abraham Lincoln was the first President to bring a cat into the White House. His son Tad, asked to bring the family cat on the trip from Illinois to the nation’s capital and the President could not say no to his son. After all, the cat was part of the Lincoln household. And so Tabby became a trailblazer in cat politics, opening the gateway for cats in future presidencies. Cheers to Honest Abe.

Fifty years later, the next cat took hold of the White House in great style. Calvin Coolidge and his family had pretty much an entire zoo in the White House while he served as President, including more than one cat. But there was one special cat out of all the other animals that held a special place in the White House. Tiger could be seen draped around the President’s neck as he walked through the rooms. When he got out of the house and went missing, the President appealed to the people through a radio address to help him find his beloved Tiger (and he was successful).

President Coolidge had a lot of unusual pets, some which would be considered illegal today. There was Budget Bureau and Tax Reduction, his two lion cubs, along with Billy, the pygmy Hippo. He had a Wallaby, a Duiker (an antelope like creature), and a Black Bear! There was Smoky the Bobcat, Rebecca and Horace the Raccoons and Enoch the Goose. It is a good think the President wasn’t around today or he would have had most of his exotic pets confiscated – either that or the laws today would be a lot different than they are.

President Coolidge had a group of more normal pets too. Their Donkey Ebeneezer and all of their dogs – a bird dog named Palo Alto, a Bulldog named Boston Beans, a Shetland Sheepdog named Calamaty Jane, the Airdale Paul Pry and his two rare white collies, Rob Roy and Prudence Prim. President Coolidge and John F. Kennedy are by far our biggest animal lovers and they get our biggest cheers!

The White House pets have played a large role in history. Fala, Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, is remembered for being present when Winston Churchil and the President signed the Atlantic Charter in 1941. Fala’s story was also the first presidential pet biography. The next dog that would pen her story would be Barbara Bush’s Springer Spaniel , Millie.

Next week my column will continue with a few Presidential jeers.

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