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In the Spotlight: Presidential Pets

The rather ordinary looking cat pictured here lives at the most famous address in the world. Socks, Chelsea Clinton’s black-and-white cat, currently resides at the White House, the first cat to do so since Amy Carter’s Siamese, Misty Malarky Ying Yang. Here, Socks poses on the South Lawn, a favorite spot.

American presidents and their families have always demonstrated a unique affinity for pets. From Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbird, Dick, to Calvin Coolidge’s amazing menagerie of cats, dogs, a pigmy hippo, a bear and an unfriendly bobcat, to the Clinton’s feline friend, pets almost seem a prerequisite for living in the White House.

Among the more famous “First Pets” are the two ponies, much loved by Abraham Lincoln’s sons, which died tragically in a fire; FDR’s dog, Fala, a Scottie that traveled with him everywhere; and Caroline Kennedy’s dog, Pushinka, a gift from Nikita Khrushchev suspected by some of being a Communist plant. And, of course, who could forget Checkers, the cocker spaniel who saved Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidacy and in the process had a speech named after him.

Pets clearly can enhance the presidential image. But is there hidden meaning in the fact that recent presidents seem to favor dogs? LBJ was a serious dog lover who shocked the nation by picking up “First Beagles,” Him and Her, by their ears. Johnson’s favorite canine, however, was Yuki, a mongrel found in a Texas gas station. Liberty, Gerald Ford’s friendly golden retriever, produced a large litter of puppies during her White House term, one of which went on to become a guide dog for the blind. Millie Bush roamed freely in the Oval Office and is the only White House pet to date to have written a best-selling autobiography (assisted by former First Lady Barbara Bush).

The ongoing saga of presidential pets not only makes for interesting political analysis, but adds another dimension to life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.