With President’s Day around the corner and an election in November, we’re looking back at some of the more popular pets that have roamed the halls of the White House. There have been some weird pet choices over the 44 presidential terms. John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator. Martin Van Buren briefly owned two tiger cubs. Teddy Roosevelt seemed to run a zoo with everything from a badger to a barn owl to a blue macaw. If there’s one thing presidents love having around the White House, it’s a furry friend to confide in. Here are our top 5 Presidential Pets.
5. Liberty - Gerald Ford
Gifted to President Gerald Ford by his daughter Susan and Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist David Kennerly, Liberty was just an 8-month-old golden retriever puppy when she made her way into the White House. She soon became a staple in photos of the Ford family, being photographed in the Oval Office to the swimming pool at Camp David. Liberty was even trained to help President Ford settle some political conversations. Rumors has it that if Ford wanted to end a conversation in the Oval Office he would signal Liberty and she would go to the guest, wagging her tail with her puppy dog eyes, creating a natural break in conversation.
4. Checkers - Richard Nixon
Maybe Checkers should be an honorable mention since she didn’t actually live in the White House. Checkers was the Nixon family’s beloved black-and-white cocker spaniel. She became a household name after Nixon mentioned her in a televised speech he gave on Sept. 23, which is also known as Checkers Day or National Dogs in Politics Day. The speech eventually became known as the Checkers Speech and helped Nixon stay on the election ticket while he was running for Senator. While Checkers passed four years before Nixon was elected president, his love for dogs never faded as he reportedly kept a drawer full of treats and enjoyed letting the dogs out onto the White House lawn so he could watch them while he dined on the Truman balcony.
3. Socks - Bill Clinton
It’s rare that a First Cat overshadows a First Dog, but that’s exactly what Socks did. Even after the Clinton’s took in a chocolate lab named Buddy, Socks was the Presidential Pet everyone wanted to see. Socks had so many fans that eventually there was a Murphy Brown episode centered around him. He appeared on stamps in the Central African Republic. He was referenced in the Violent Femmes music video for “Blister in the Sun.” He even almost had a video game made about him for SNES and Sega Genesis. Not a bad way to spend 9 lives.
2. Laddie Boy - Warren Harding
Known as the White House’s first celebrity dog, Laddie Boy, an Airedale terrier, was a newspaper staple during President’s Harding term. Laddie seemed to set the precedent as to what a Presidential Pet should be. Laddie joined in on cabinet meetings where he sat in his own hand carved chair. There was such demand for Laddie in the newspapers that publications such as the New York Times and Washington Star seemed to run stories about him daily. First Lady Florence Harding was an advocate for the care of abused and neglected animals and soon used Laddie as the poster child for the national promotion of animal rights issues. Laddie Boy was so beloved that the White House commissioned an official portrait to be made in his honor.
1. Fala - FDR
Like Laddie Boy, Fala, a Scottish Terrier, became an integral part of FDR’s image. Roosevelt’s political rivals even used Fala against him when word got out that the Roosevelt’s had forgotten Fala during a trip to the Aleutian Islands. Eventually, FDR sent a U.S. Navy ship to rescue Fala. He was a favorite of the White House staff, having a bone brought to him every morning and a full meal at night. He would, however, beg the White House staff for food. It was hard to resist a begging Scottish Terrier, but the staff was ordered to stop feeding Fala outside of his regular meals after he fell ill to overfeeding. The press couldn’t get enough of Fala as he was regularly featured in newspapers and became the subject of a short series of political cartoons. FDR even wrote Fala into a speech after speaking with Orson Welles. The mention of Fala during his speech, which was broadcast over the radio, was met with such adoration and laughter that the speech eventually became known as the “Fala Speech” which Nixon would reference in his “Checkers Speech.” A companion dog through and through, Fala survived FDR by 7 years, eventually becoming a much loved and often written about companion to Eleanor Roosevelt. Fala is the only dog to be memorialized as a statue at a presidential memorial where you can find him sitting at the feet of FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.