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A History of White House Pets (1945-1977)

Updated on August 18, 2017
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Michelle has an M.A. in history and enjoys reading and writing about odd factoids from the past.

1. Harry S. Truman 1945 - 1953

Feller arrived in a crate in December 1947.
Feller arrived in a crate in December 1947. | Source

President Truman came into office near the end of WWII and was immediately immersed in a number of controversies, including the setting off of the atomic bombs and his initiatives in the Cold War.

One controversy that is not well-known was his dislike of keeping pets. Although he is famously quoted as saying, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog," Truman upset dog lovers across the country when he gave away a Cocker Spaniel he had received as an anonymous gift. The rejected puppy, later known as "Feller, the unwanted dog," ended up on a farm in Ohio where he lived happily until old age.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953 - 1961

Heidi walks beside the President as he returns to the Executive Office Building after a press conference on March 11, 1959.
Heidi walks beside the President as he returns to the Executive Office Building after a press conference on March 11, 1959.

The Eisenhowers had 2 pets during their time in the White House: a parakeet and a Weimaraner named Heidi.

Heidi was a gift from Eisenhower's postmaster general, Arthur Summerfield. In a letter to Summerfield in 1958, the President affectionately described Heidi as, "an asset to life in the White House." He continues the letter by writing, "She cavorts on the South Lawn at a great rate, with such important projects as chasing squirrels and investigating what might be under bushes. She is beautiful and well-behaved (occasionally she tends toward stubbornness but is then immediately apologetic about it). And she is extremely affectionate and seemingly happy. I am constantly indebted to you both for giving her to me . . ."

Heidi lived in the White House for only a short time because her weak bladder often got her in trouble with the staff. After an accident on an extremely expensive White House rug, the President moved Heidi to his family farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where she later gave birth to 2 puppies.

3. John F. Kennedy 1961 - 1963

Caroline Kennedy’s pony, Macaroni.
Caroline Kennedy’s pony, Macaroni. | Source

Of the presidents on this list, John F. Kennedy had the largest number of pets and the most variety. The Kennedys kept 15 pets total, from dogs and cats to birds and ponies.

The above photo of the president's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, on her pony inspired the Neil Diamond song, "Sweet Caroline."

4. Lyndon B. Johnson 1963 - 1969

Him and Her walking with LBJ.
Him and Her walking with LBJ. | Source

There was no a question that LBJ loved dogs. In fact, he loved them so much, he had the White House doghouse redesigned and enlarged to accommodate a pair of beagles, a collie, and a mixed breed named Yuki.

His pair of beagles, named Him and Her, were celebrity dogs. They were often spotted napping in the Oval Office, riding along the president in his car, and even swimming in the White House pool.

5. Richard Nixon 1969 - 1974

Vicky with the president before his resignation.
Vicky with the president before his resignation.

Despite all the controversy and the mistakes he made, Nixon, at the end of the day, was a human with weaknesses and strengths like the rest of us. One of his lesser-known — and less controversial — weaknesses was his love for dogs.

While serving as Vice President, his Cocker Spaniel Checkers, played a role in winning him a bid for Vice President. In a televised speech in which he defended his alleged misuse of $18,000 of campaign funds, he mentioned that no matter what happens with the funds, his two daughters would be allowed to keep a campaign gift: a black and white puppy named Checkers. This charmed and captivated many Americans, and the speech was the first time a politician used T.V. to persuade the people.

When Nixon again ran into controversy later in his own presidency, his loyal companion, Vicky was by his side, lending support to a then troubled Nixon.

6. Gerald Ford 1974-1977

The Fords were partial to Golden Retrievers, and their beloved Liberty was acquired from a reputable breeder in Missouri. Liberty was later bred with a champion golden retriever and gave birth to 9 pups. Mr. and Mrs. Ford kept one and named it Misty. The others were given to close friends, and one went to the Leader Dog School for the Blind.

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