Why is there so much interest whether the President of the U.S. has a pet or not?
Nearly all of the U.S. Presidents have owned pets, which not only provided love and companionship but often helped boost the president’s popularity with voters.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s black Scottish terrier, Fala, is credited with helping re-elect him for a fourth term. Fala had accompanied Roosevelt on a trip to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where he was accidentally left behind. Roosevelt immediately dispatched a Navy destroyer to pick him up. The Republicans made a stink about the waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Roosevelt responded to the criticism in a speech to the Teamster’s Union in 1944, saying that he expected ridicule of himself and his family but Fala’s “Scotch soul was furious.” Everyone laughed, and the speech became known as the Fala Speech.
Richard Nixon had a similar experience when he was the vice presidential candidate on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ticket. Accused of keeping a secret slush fund, Nixon gave the televised Checkers Speech, named after his cocker spaniel. In the speech, Nixon said no matter what Democrats said, he was going to keep his dog, which had been a gift for his daughters. The outpouring of support for Nixon after the speech was overwhelming and is credited with his not being removed from the ticket.
During a 1964 photo session on the White House lawn, Lyndon B. Johnson picked up one of his beagles by the ears. The image appeared in newspapers across the country, sparking outrage among animal lovers.
Abraham Lincoln’s children had a menagerie of cats, dogs, goats, ponies, pigs and rabbits. Even a turkey that was intended for Christmas dinner was mercifully spared, starting the White House tradition of granting one gobbler a last-minute reprieve from death.
Theodore Roosevelt had 12 horses, five dogs, five guinea pigs, two cats, garter snakes, a horned toad, a pony, two kangaroo rats, a flock of ducks, a flying squirrel, a badger, a pig and a blue macaw named Eli Yale, lizards, rats, roosters and raccoons. He also received many gifts from visiting dignitaries which were housed in the National Zoo. These included: a lion, hyena, wildcat, coyote, five bears, two parrots, a zebra and a barn owl.
John F. Kennedy relieved stress by visiting an animal play yard near the West Wing that was stocked with lambs, ponies, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets, a canary, a cat, a rabbit, a horse and Pushinka, the pup of a Soviet space dog.