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Presidential pets of yesteryear make First Dog Bo look tame

April 15, 2009 |  6:27 pm

Gator

Some among us have stated their objections to the Obamas' choice of pet.  For those disappointed that the president's dog was not plucked from a shelter (and don't get us wrong; we're among them), one silver lining to the Portuguese water dog cloud may be that there's not a far more exotic animal than a purebred dog in the White House.

Say, an alligator.  Or a pygmy hippo.  Or a tiger.

Presidents past -- and no, we don't just mean Teddy Roosevelt -- have brought a slew of strange animals onto the White House grounds.  From Old Whiskers, the goat that belonged to Benjamin Harrison's son Russell, to Pauline, William Howard Taft's personal milk cow, odd pets flocked to Washington, D.C., in past generations.  Mentalfloss notes that several presidents had pet alligators:

Hoover owned a slew of dogs, but those weren’t his only pets. His second son, Allan Henry Hoover, owned a pair of gators that were occasionally allowed to wander around the White House grounds. Sound crazy? Blame John Quincy Adams for setting the precedent. The sixth president also had a pet gator. His was a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette; it lived in a bathroom in the East Room of the White House. According to some reports, he enjoyed using the gator to scare his guests.

Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, not only kept dogs, but also raccoons, a wallaby, a donkey and a bobcat -- and the aforementioned pygmy hippo, Billy.  Billy, who was captured in Liberia, was given to Coolidge as a gift by tire magnate Harvey Firestone.  Coolidge donated Billy to the National Zoo, where he went on to father more than 20 hippo offspring.  He's an ancestor to most pygmy hippos in American zoos.

Martin Van Buren was given two tiger cubs by the Sultan of Oman; they were later donated to a zoo.

Teddy Roosevelt not only had a bear, but also a badger, a pig and a one-legged rooster.  (His kids also kept the wonderfully named guinea pigs Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans and Father O'Grady.)

Can't get enough of presidential pets?  Check out the Times' photo gallery.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: David Trotman-Wilkins / Chicago Tribune

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