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Animals -- whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays -- have long been a major part of life at the White House. Some pets simply provided companionship to the president and his family. Others gained fame for a role in shaping the president's public image. No matter what job was bestowed upon them, White House pets usually did it well.

Taping for White House web cam series, "Barney Cam IV," 2005.

White House photos by Shealah Craighead

Fun Facts:

  • Tad Lincoln saves Jack the Turkey: In 1863, ten-year-old Tad Lincoln befriended a turkey sent to the White House for a holiday feast. He named the bird Jack and treated him as a pet. As Christmas day approached, Tad realized it would soon be time to prepare the turkey for Christmas dinner. The young boy burst into the cabinet meeting in tears and pleaded with his father to pardon the bird from the "executioner." Recent presidential speeches cite this historic anecdote as the basis for the modern-day turkey pardoning photo-op at Thanksgiving.
  • President Pierce gives a pocket dog: In 1855, President Franklin Pierce gave a Japanese spaniel to his Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who would become the president of the Confederacy. Many years later, Mrs. Davis recalled that as puppies such dogs were so small "that a coffee saucer made an ample scampering ground for them."

A Japanese spaniel, c. 2005.

Kennel Club Books
  • Fala becomes a movie star: In 1943, MGM made a short-subject film relating the World War II home front story from Fala's perspective. The studio made a second installment in 1946 after his master's death that included Fala's tour of Hyde Park, the Roosevelt family estate, and future site of a presidential library.

Fala with news photographers at the White House, 1942.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
  • The Roosevelts' pony is taken into the family quarters: Footman Charlie Reeder once helped the Roosevelt children sneak the family pony, Algonquin, up to Archie's bedroom in the White House elevator. Archie, who was sick in bed with the measles, was thrilled to see the pony and 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.

The Roosevelts' pony, Algonquin, visits Archie.

White House Historical Association
  • Mrs. Bush celebrates "All Creatures Great and Small": First Lady Laura Bush celebrated the importance of pets to family life at the White House with the 2002 holiday decorations theme, "All Creatures Great and Small." Mrs. Bush noted that "animals and birds of every description have entertained, befriended, comforted, and worked for presidents and their families." With the help of the Executive Residence staff, the National Park Service, and an army of volunteers, the display honored "the endearing role of all the dogs, cats, birds, horses, sheep, and even alligators and raccoons in White House history."

President George W. Bush's English springer spaniel, Spot, plays on the White House lawn, 2001.

White House photo by Paul Morse

Content by White House Historical Association in cooperation with the White House Curator's Office and the National Park Service.