It has become a tradition for the president to have a pet dog in the oval office. These adorable dogs have been as big a part of the First Family as their human counterparts. But before this furry form of friendship came to be, our presidents had some rather interesting animal advisers. So here are the top seven strangest pets our presidents have owned:
1. Washington and Jackson - Parrots
While George Washington was the true first American and had a fondness for dogs, his wife, Martha, was more of a bird gal. She had a green parrot that she named Snipe (or, in some historical cases, Polly). Later in life, she also had a cockatoo!
Andrew Jackson’s parrot, Poll, had a potty mouth like no other. He bought the African grey parrot for his wife, Rachel Jackson, but ended up taking care of the bird under his wing after her death. Because of the president’s foul language, Poll was known to have very colorful language. It even got kicked out of Jackson’s funeral for cursing during the ceremony!
A few other presidents had parrots as well. Some of them include James Madison, Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
2. Thomas Jefferson - Mockingbird
Following the bird trend, Thomas Jefferson had a Mockingbird. Several actually. But his favorite one was named Dick. Jefferson actually owned so many mockingbirds, that some of them escaped, and now are a permanent part of the wildlife in Monticello, his mountaintop home. Before Jefferson, mockingbirds
Jefferson was also in possession of two bear cubs. They were a gift to him, but he decided they were too dangerous to keep at the White House, so he donated them to a museum.
3. Woodrow Wilson - Sheep
During World War I, Woodrow Wilson expressed a profound act of homefront support for the troops, by keeping a herd of sheep at the White House with him and his family. The sheep ate the grass. They earned over $52,000 for the Red Cross by selling their wool. How cool would it be to have a shirt made out of the wool of a presidential sheep?!
Unfortunately, the sheep were scared of the first automobiles that drove by the White House, and they ate all the grass on the lawns. Eventually, Wilson decided to “retire from the sheep business”.
Thomas Jefferson also kept a herd of sheep at the White House. They would keep people from trespassing on the lawn.
4. Mrs. Louisa Adams - Silkworms
Wife of John Quincy Adams, Louisa was not fond of being First Lady. Before there was even a thought about Women’s Rights or equality, Louisa found herself as a bit of a puppet for her husband’s political career. She found refuge and companionship in the way many people do; by getting a pet. Only, her form of pet was a little wormier than others.
Louisa Adams very much enjoyed raising her own silkworms. She took care of them and even harvested their silk by herself. She would then use that silk for her sewings. Louisa owned “several hundred” silkworms that she kept in the White House with her.
5. Teddy and Calvin’s Literal Zoos
Both Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge kept a zoo-full of animals at the White House. Teddy’s array of animals included: an angry badger, various kinds of birds, snakes, a bear, five dogs, five guinea pigs, ten horses, and a pony!
Meanwhile, Calvin’s animals were: a goose, a donkey, a cat, two lion cubs, an antelope, a wallaby, six dogs, and a pygmy hippo named Billy. Billy the hippo ended up being donated to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and would soon become the ancestor of many pygmy hippos in the zoos you visit.
All those animals in the White House - imagine the smell!
6. John Quincy Adams - Alligator
Good old JQA had a pet alligator that was gifted to him by the Marquis de Lafayette, an old family friend. It lived in one of the bathrooms in the White House, and Adams would enjoy using the reptile to scare unsuspecting politicians.
And then, what is the strangest pet to roam the White House? Which animal has the reigning title of the best beautiful beast? Who owned such a unique creature?
7. James Buchanan - Elephant
James Buchanan had the biggest dog of any presidents; a 170-pound Newfoundland named Lara. But Lara must’ve felt pretty small next to the herd of elephants that were gifted to the president by the king of Siam. The president did give the elephants over to a zoo. Buchanan was also the only president to never marry, which makes sense because I don’t know any First Lady that wouldn’t address the elephant in the room.
And those are the strangest residents that have stayed in the White House. Maybe one day our future presidents will bring another exotic pet with them on their campaigns and this list can grow even longer. Until then, there’s nothing wrong with dogs.