Exclusively Online | Spring 2021 Issue

“A Lighter Look” — White House Wildlife

Rick Meyer's regularly appearing column takes a lighter look at politics and public affairs around the world. This month: The White House Zoo

By Richard E. Meyer

“What if he brings in an alligator?”

“A what?’

“There was an alligator in here once, Major.”


“John Quincy Adams kept it in a bathtub near the East Room. It was a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette.”

“Cats are worse.”

“George Washington didn’t live here; he stayed at Mount Vernon, but he had hunting dogs, including Sweet Lips, Tipsy, Tipler and Drunkard. A French hound, named Vulcan, stole a ham from the kitchen right before a fancy dinner.”

“Good for Vulcan!”

“That’s the wrong attitude, Major. You have to become a better dog, like Champ was – or the president will send you back to Delaware again for more retraining. Stay on your best behavior even if he brings in several new pets. That’s very important, because it could get crazy around here.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve done research at news sites and places like the Presidential Pet Museum. The museum says Andrew Jackson had a parrot named Poll who cursed. It created such a fuss at Jackson’s funeral that it was escorted out.”


“Abraham Lincoln had two goats, named Nanny and Nanko, who were given the run of this place. Sometimes they napped on his son Tad’s bed.”

“That’s cool!”

“Tad befriended a turkey, named Jack, who was a gift for Christmas dinner. The White House Historical Association says Tad burst into a Cabinet meeting in tears and pleaded with his father to pardon the turkey from the ‘executioner.’ Thus began the tradition of presidential pardons for turkeys.

“Then there was Andrew Johnson, who became president when Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson sprinkled flour out at night for a family of mice.”

“Now that’s crazy!”

“Listen to this: Benjamin Harrison had two possums. Trade treaties were big deals back then. Harrison named one of his possums Mr. Reciprocity and the other Mr. Protection.”

“That’s very crazy!”

“The pet museum says William McKinley’s parrot, which he named Washington Post, could whistle Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

“That’s very cool!”

“Theodore Roosevelt had 40–odd pets, including, at various times, a hyena, pig named Maude, a badger named Josiah, a bear named Jonathan Edwards and a snake named Emily Spinach. It belonged to his daughter Alice. The pet museum says the snake was green, and that Alice said it was skinny as her Aunt Emily.

“One day, the historical association says, a footman helped the Roosevelt kids sneak their family pony, Algonquin, into son Archie’s room while he had the measles. Archie was thrilled, the historians say, and he ‘let out a whoop and dove for him. The startled horse slipped and fell to the floor with a loud thud. The noise brought the whole family rushing to the bedroom and earned Archie a light-hearted scolding from the president.’ ”

“Did Algonquin get sent to Delaware for retraining?”

“No. Neither did William Howard Taft’s cow Pauline Wayne, for grazing on the White House lawn. Nor did Warren G. Harding’s dog Laddie Boy, for sitting in on Cabinet meetings.

“And neither did Woodrow Wilson’s ram, Old Ike. He chewed tobacco and smoked cigars.”


“People had a habit of giving Calvin Coolidge all kinds of animals. including a pygmy hippo named Billy, two lion cubs named Tax Deduction and Budget Bureau, a bear, a wallaby and an antelope. Some went straight to a zoo. But Coolidge wore his favorite raccoon, Rebecca, draped around his neck.”

“He wore a raccoon?”


“There ought to be a law against that.”

“Two presidents used their dogs to get out of political trouble. When Franklin Roosevelt ran for his fourth term, Republicans accused him of leaving his Scottish terrier, Fala, behind on a visit to the Aleutian Islands, then spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to rescue him.

“Roosevelt denied it. ‘You can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog,’ he said. ‘He’s Scotch, and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious.’ It was called his ‘Fala speech,’ and it helped him get re-elected.

“Richard Nixon was accused of hiding political contributions in a slush fund for personal use. He denied it and refused to return any money.

“He also said someone had sent him a Cocker Spaniel. ‘Our little girl Tricia, the six-year-old, named it Checkers,’ Nixon said. He said his children loved the dog, and regardless of what people thought, ‘We’re going to keep it.’ It was called his Checkers speech, and it helped save his career.

“What do you think about that, Major?”

“I’m glad Donald Trump didn’t have any White House pets. We animals are finally learning to choose our humans wisely.”


The Last Laugh:

“Donald J. Trump’s promise to release a long-delayed health-care plan hit a snag when he said his dog ate the only existing copy. Nobody had been previously aware that the president had a dog.”

– By Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker.



Richard E. Meyer

Richard E. Meyer

Meyer is the senior editor of Blueprint. He has been a White House correspondent and national news features writer for the Associated Press and a roving national correspondent and editor of long-form narratives at the Los Angeles Times.

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