For all its gravitas, the splendor of its neoclassical architecture, its tennis court, bowling alley, swimming pool, 128 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, and five full-time chefs, the sandstone edifice at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is still, in the most basic sense, a house. And when it comes to making a house feel like home, a dog goes a long way.
Construction of the White House was completed on November 1, 1800, and since then it has housed more than 100 presidential pooches. They’ve run circles through the hallowed halls of American democracy, walked stride for stride with historic world leaders, and, at least in the case of Gerald Ford’s golden retriever, Liberty, relieved themselves on the Oval Office rug. Ford, to his credit, would not allow a Navy steward standing nearby to clean up the mess. “I’ll do that,” said the Commander-in-Chief. “No man should have to clean up after another man’s dog.”
Some of these First Pups were already part of presidents’ lives, while others were acquired under the auspices of their leadership. Franklin Pierce’s six-pound Japanese Chin, for example, was a gift from Japan in 1854, delivered to the president by Commodore Matthew Perry, the naval officer who spearheaded Japan’s reopening to the west after 200-plus years of strict isolationism. All but four U.S. presidents had pets of some sort; we’re not counting the mice Andrew Johnson fed by leaving flour and grain on his bedroom floor. Rivaled only by the adventurous Teddy Roosevelt, President Calvin Coolidge was among the most animal crazy, turning the White House into a Dolittle-esque menagerie that included seven birds, two cats, two raccoons, two lion cubs, a donkey, a bobcat, a pygmy hippo, a wallaby, and more, if you can believe it. Of course, Coolidge was also rather fond of dogs, keeping 12 of them at the presidential residence. “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House,” he proclaimed.
Founding Fathers Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe were all dog owners, but it wasn’t until Lincoln that presidential dogs started making the news. And at first, it wasn’t for a good reason…

Abraham Lincoln's Yellow Labrador

Fido never lived in the White House with Lincoln, who opted to leave his furry friend at home in Springfield, Illinois. Then, a year after the president’s assassination, Fido befell the same grisly fate. The dog had been in the care of John E. Roll, an old friend of Lincoln’s. “We possessed the dog for a number of years,” Roll’s son, Johnny, told LIFE in 1954, just weeks before his death at the age of 90. “One day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing who, in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. He was buried by loving hands. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog, met the fate of his illustrious master — assassination.” Many sources, including the American Kennel Club, contend that “Fido” as a generic stand-in for any dog comes from Lincoln’s Lab.

Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Terrier

Ol’ TR was essentially a full-on zookeeper, retaining as White House pets 11 horses, five Guinea pigs, two cats, flying squirrels, one badger, one hen, one macaw, one hyena, and two kangaroo rats. And that’s just scratching the surface of Teddy’s 40-plus-pet habit. Roosevelt was known to be fond of mixed-bloodline canines, which he called “Heinz 57” dogs. Perhaps most infamous, however, was Roosevelt’s bull terrier mix, Pete. Though the New York Times reported that Pete’s job was to “keep suspicious characters, newspaper correspondents, and incessant Secretaries of the Interior out of the White House grounds,” it appears he might have gotten carried away in several dramatic instances and chomped some very important legs. In 1906, Pete’s jaws famously found a French ambassador, ripping off his pants in the process as Pete attempted to escape up a tree.

Roosevelt exiled the bull terrier to Virginia for a period of time before he was returned to the White House on a probationary basis. Pete went right back to his old pantsing ways, however, tearing off the trousers of a Navy Department clerk on the White House grounds. He was relocated — this time for good — to the family farm on Long Island.



Laddie Boy
Warren G. Harding's Airedale Terrier

Laddie Boy’s photogenic appearance and loyal disposition made him a celebrity in his own right — a perfect furry face for Harding’s post-World War I campaign promise for a “Return to Normalcy.” Laddie Boy was fond of chasing down President Harding’s golf balls when they hit trees, but it wasn’t all fun and games for the First Dog. Laddie had his own carved wooden chair in which he sat during Cabinet meetings, and newspapers of the time covered his activities, with some outlets conducting mock interviews. In the three days leading up to Harding’s death, it is said that Laddie Boy inconsolably howled. In his memory, and because the president was once a paperboy, newsboys nationwide submitted 19,134 pennies that were melted down and fashioned into a sculpture of Laddie Boy. It currently resides in the Smithsonian.

King Tut
Herbert Hoover's Belgian Malinois

In an attempt to soften his image as a mining engineer and steely businessman, Herbert Hoover’s campaign coordinators cooked up a savvy scheme. If you’ve seen a Subaru commercial in the last 10 years, you know it well: lean into the dog angle. The campaign circulated a photograph of a smiling Hoover posing with King Tut, and, of course, the plan worked; the American public began to see Hoover as a warmer figure, and he bested New York Governor Al Smith in the 1928 election. During his time at the White House, King Tut even served as a perimeter patrol guard.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Scottish Terrier

Fala was a constant companion to FDR, traveling with him on diplomatic visits and other excursions. After one such trip to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a rumor reached the floor of the House that Fala was left behind and Roosevelt had ordered a warship to be sent back to retrieve him at enormous taxpayer cost. In what would later become known as his “Fala speech,” FDR quipped to a gathering of Teamsters that “you can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog. He’s Scotch and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious.” The crowd loved it, and some contend that this helped turn the tide for FDR to win his fourth term.
Fala was beloved by both the president and the public, receiving so much mail that he had his own secretary. The terrier is immortalized beside his owner in a bronze sculpture at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC.

John F. Kennedy's Mixed Breed

Among the Soviet Union’s most famous dogs was Strelka (Little Arrow), one of two strays that went into space aboard Sputnik 5. Strelka had six puppies, one of which Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gifted to John F. Kennedy in 1961. Named Pushinka (Fluffy), the dog was greeted with a degree of suspicion by the American public and national security officials alike. As a result, the poor thing was examined by the CIA at Walter Reed Medical Center; the investigation uncovered no listening or monitoring device of any kind. Pushinka became pregnant by one of JFK’s other dogs, Charlie, and the president referred to the offspring as “pupniks.”

Him & Her
Lyndon B. Johnson's Beagles

Lyndon B. Johnson caused something of a scandal when a photograph was taken of the president holding up one of his beagles, named Him, by the ears. He was later pressured to apologize, stating, “I’ve been pulling Him’s ears since he was a pup. He seemed to like it.”

Gerald Ford's Golden Retriever

Following the tumultuous Nixon administration, the aim of Gerald Ford’s leadership was to foster “a time to heal.” And when it comes to a salve for the soul of the nation, a golden retriever is just what the doctor ordered. The Fords’ daughter, Susan, procured an 8-month-old puppy named Streaker from a Minneapolis breeder and, thankfully, picked a better name. Liberty was a surprise to President Ford, but they took to one another instantly. Delighted at their first introduction, the president immediately plopped down on all fours to play with the young rascal.

Once word got out of a presidential pup, the American people wanted to know: who will look after her? No doubt the White House had sufficient staff to cover the job, but the president did not shirk his duty. “I have this feeling… this is one Liberty that is going to cost me some of mine,” he said. “But in a broader sense, that is the true nature of liberty. It comes with both privileges and obligations. Freedom, we all know, is seldom free.”

Liberty was popular with the public, and she would often “sign” her return correspondence with an inked paw print. People really went berserk for Liberty when she gave birth to nine puppies. Delivery took place in a room on the White House’s third floor, complete with a whelping box with plastic sheets. So many letters started rolling in to the golden’s mailbox that White House staff turned her paw into a more practical rubber stamp.

George H. W. Bush's English Springer Spaniel

Millie Bush was a multifaceted pet and especially well-behaved around people. Giving birth to six puppies made her so popular with the media that she ended up on the cover of LIFE magazine with First Lady Barbara Bush. The First Lady later dictated the best-selling Millie’s Book for children, which was credited to the English springer spaniel and reportedly outsold Barbara Bush’s own autobiography.
That was her good side. Beneath that adorable coat of fluff was a bloodthirsty hunter who had already honed her craft while residing at the Naval Observatory. Reagan, the outgoing president before Bush, jokingly set up a “Beware of Dog” sign near the Oval Office, but he didn’t know the half of it. Within a matter of months, four squirrels, three rats, and a pigeon fell victim to her savagery.

George W. Bush's Scottish Terrier

Barney the Scottish terrier gave Americans a (literally) ground-floor view of the White House goings-on. What started as a perspective of the December 2002 Christmas party from the dog’s point of view morphed into a full-on website for the First Dog, and “Barney Cam” became something of a holiday tradition.

Bo & Sunny
Barack Obama's Portuguese Water Dogs

The Obamas expressed a desire for a Portuguese water dog because of the breed’s hypoallergenic qualities, accounting for daughter Malia’s allergies. Bo was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. In 2009, the White House unveiled a baseball card for Bo that included some impressive statistics. Namesake? Singer Bo Diddley, and also a cat belonging to Sasha and Malia’s cousin. Goal as First Dog? Make friends with foreign dignitaries. Favorite food? Tomatoes.

Champ & Major
Joe Biden's German Shepherds

Champ served two stints in the White House, both during Joe Biden’s vice presidency and during his current presidency. Biden trained previous German shepherds prior to welcoming Champ into the family, and said that his dog’s name reminded him of a saying his father often used: “Any time you get knocked down, Champ, get up!” Champ passed away on June 19, 2021 at the age of 13, leaving the role of First Dog solely to Major, another shepherd. Major is a rescue dog, fostered into the Biden’s care through the Delaware Humane Association shelter after the puppy’s litter was exposed to “something toxic” and the original owners could not afford the necessary veterinary care. Major has had a bit of an issue with biting, but he’s in good company; FDR’s German shepherd, also named Major, bit both a US Senator and the UK Prime Minister.

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