Like Home, Pets Rule the White House and Not Just for Obama

Puppy talk is all the rage in Washington, but obsessing over presidential pets is nothing new.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Presidential historian and collector Barry Landau loves animals, especially if they have an inauguration connection like Socks, Chelsea Clinton's kitty. But one of Landau's favorite inaugural stories revolves around pre-Civil War President Zachary Taylor's Army horse, Whitey. "People know Buddy, Socks, and Fala [FDR's pet Scottie]," he says. But Taylor's horse is another story. Taylor, the 12th president and a Mexican War hero, actually had a picture of Whitey drawn on his inaugural invitation.

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President Zachary Taylor with his horse, Whitey (Copyright 2008 Barry H. Landau Collection)

"It's one of the most elaborate invitations and one of the most highly collectible," says Landau, the author of the upcoming book The President's Inauguration 200 Years of a n American Pageant . He figures the Taylor invitation, dated March 5, 1849, would fetch thousands of dollars, and not just because of age. The other reason is Whitey, renowned in horse circles. "When he would hear parade music, he would start prancing and would want to get into the action," Landau tells our Suzi Parker.

Other presidential pet tidbits from Landau:

  • John F. Kennedy was given a pair of bunnies from Frank Sinatra for John and Caroline. JFK named the pair Zsa Zsa.
    • While Obama has told his daughters they will get a presidential puppy, Abraham Lincoln had to leave his family dog, Fido, behind in Illinois when they journeyed to the White House. "He told the boys [that when] we get to Washington, 'I'll get you something to replace him,' " Landau says. "He got them goats, specifically for the inauguration."
      • Laddie Boy, Warren Harding's dog, was a gift to the president and his wife from newspaper boys. Harding was a newspaper publisher. Laddie Boy had songs written about him, and he had a fan club and received so many letters that he had a secretary who would respond to the letters. "Florence Harding really commercialized on Laddie Boy," Landau says. "Laddie Boy was truly the first commercialized first presidential pet. He went to the hospital to visit the soldiers." He was also featured on newsreels.
        • One of the most famous dogs was in a White House portrait of Grace Coolidge, a collie named Rob Roy. Landau says it hangs in the White House china room.
          • Woodrow Wilson had sheep that the family brought from New Jersey on the train with them. The sheep grazed on the White House lawn. Ellen Louis Wilson made mittens from the sheep for soldiers during the First World War.
            • And what about Obama? Landau says, "I told them they should get a Wheaton Terrier. They aren't froufrou, and they are hypoallergenic."