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ZOO-ology column: Find out about First Animals at the White House

Feb. 19, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2012 at 8:19 p.m.

William Howard Taft's cow, Miss Pauline Wayne, grazes on the lawn in front of the Old Executive Building next to the White House.

By Judie Farnsworth

It's Presidents Day and a fine time to talk about some of the hundreds of animals that have lived at the White House.

Most of our presidents have been fond of animals. Just about anything that could walk, fly, crawl, swim or slither has called the White House home.

The Presidential Pet Museum in Maryland lists 400 animals. Some were eventually, and wisely, housed at The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The usual family pets: dogs, cats, horses and birds have graced 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but the list also includes barnyard and exotic animals.

Two goats, Nanny and Nanko, rode in the presidential carriage with Lincoln. One was once found in the Tad Lincoln's bed. Tad, the son of Abraham Lincoln, embarrassed the first lady when he hitched the goats to a chair and turned them loose. They crashed into a sitting room full of guests she was entertaining.

A pet turkey known as Jack was the first in the tradition of sparing a holiday turkey. Jack was originally meant for Christmas dinner until befriended and named by Tad Lincoln.

William Henry Harrison's goat (His Whiskers) caused quite a commotion when he charged through open gates and down Pennsylvania Avenue pulling Harrison's grandchildren in a cart. The president ran behind, holding his hat, shouting and waving his cane.

Woodrow Wilson's herd of sheep (nibbling landscapers) included Old Ike, a tobacco chewing ram.

William McKinley had roosters and William Howard Taft's cow, Pauline Wayne (aka Miss Wayne) provided milk for the family. Calvin Coolidge had a donkey named Ebenezer and a goose named Enoch that starred on Broadway. A raccoon named Rebecca walked on a leash and was free to roam while inside. Coolidge's wife, Grace, had a mockingbird that was not always caged.

Another mockingbird (Dick) was Thomas Jefferson's constant companion. He sang to a violin and warbled bedtime tunes as Jefferson went to sleep.

John Quincy Adams housed an alligator in the bathroom by the East Room and his wife, Louisa, raised silkworms.

Andrew Johnson fed a family of mice in his bedroom and Herbert Hoover had an opossum.

Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice, had a pet garter snake called Emily Spinach, claiming it was as green as spinach and thin as Aunt Emily.

Numerous gifts given by foreign dignitaries include: bears, lions, tigers, elephants, antelope, wild birds, a wallaby and even a pygmy hippo.

Lewis and Clark presented Thomas Jefferson with a pair of grizzly bear cubs.

Teddy Roosevelt captured a young lion and several bear cubs which were kept, for a while, on the White House grounds.

There have been donkeys, pigs, a badger, squirrel, antelope, lizards, turtles, eagles, owls, hamsters, guinea pigs, bobcats, coyotes, zebras, hyenas, rabbits and the list goes on.

Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge appear to have had the largest menageries.

I can't end this without an emphatic disclaimer stressing the strong illegality, not to mention very poor judgment, of possessing wild animals. It gives me chills to think of the damage and pain some of these animals are able to inflict. They may be gentle most of the time, but they're wild at heart and can behave instinctively.

In the hands of unskilled people, the animals may also be harmed. Watch, learn and enjoy them safely. There's some wonderful watching at The Texas Zoo.

Sources: presidentialpetmuseum.com - National Geographic Kids

www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/mockingbirds

www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Library/newsletter.asp?ID

Judie Farnsworth is a longtime volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs.

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