By now, the Obamas’ dog Bo has become a household name. The Portuguese water dog was given to the family as a gift early during the President’s first term. Though Bo is still considered the First Dog, he now shares the White House with another Portuguese water dog named Sunny.
These two dogs have captured the hearts of all dog-loving Americans. But they certainly haven’t been the first to do so! Though almost every president has owned a pet of some kind, we’ve chosen six of our favorite dogs that have lived in the White House throughout history.
- Rollo, belonging to Teddy Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt kept a whole menagerie of pets in the White House, including snakes, a pony, a one-legged rooster, and even a hyena! But the most beloved pets during the TR years were certainly the dogs. And Rollo was chief among them.
Rollo was a giant St. Bernard that was given to the family by Alfred S. Rollo, who the dog was eventually named after. But the truth was that Roosevelt didn’t want the dog at first. He wrote to Mr. Rollo, stating that they didn’t have the room and already had too many dogs. In the end, Rollo the dog won him over.
The St. Bernard’s charm came from his gentleness with children. Despite being nearly 200 pounds, the kids were able to roughhouse with the dog and never upset him or come to any harm. Rollo never so much as growled at the children. At the time the Associated Press called Rollo the Roosevelt’s “most interesting pet.” He was equally friendly with guests and other White House visitors, but was forever devoted to Roosevelt’s six kids.
- Laddie Boy, belonging to Warren G. Harding
Laddie Boy is the first First Dog to be regularly featured in newspapers and other press. He was an Airedale Terrier belonging to Warren G. Harding and his wife. Laddie Boy’s fame grew in part due to Florence Harding’s dedication to animal rights issues.
Florence had a deep concern for the welfare of abused and neglected animals. Laddie Boy became the face of the issues Florence called attention to.
And Laddie Boy’s fame grew. Birthday parties were held at the White House for him. A special chair was fashioned for the dog so he could sit in on cabinet meetings. The newspapers at the time even wrote up mock interviews with Laddie Boy, pretending he could speak with the press. In fact, Laddie Boy was involved in nearly every aspect of President Harding’s life.
After President Harding’s death, a sculpture of Laddie Boy was commissioned to commemorate Harding. The sculpture was made out of 19,000 pennies all donated by newsboys in honor of Harding’s days as a newspaperman. Laddie Boy sat for the sculptor a total of 15 times before it was completed. The statue is now in the collections at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
- Fala, belonging to Franklin D. Roosevelt
No list of First Dogs would be complete without mentioning Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier named Fala. Fala went everywhere with FDR, and even now sits by his side carved in stone at the Franklin Deleno Roosevelt Memorial. Fala is currently the only First Dog to ever be featured in a presidential memorial.
Fala traveled to many places with Roosevelt, by boat, car, and train. He met such famous people as Winston Churchill and attended important events such as the Quebec Conferences. At home, Fala was treated like a king. He was fed a bone every morning alongside Roosevelt at breakfast, and feasted on a big supper every night. He was so cute, the kitchen staff had to be told not to spoil him with food scraps!
One of FDR’s more famous speeches – now known simply as the “Fala Speech” – was in response to Republican adversaries attacking the little dog and spreading rumors. Roosevelt was accused of leaving Fala on the Aleutian Islands and using millions of taxpayer dollars to rescue the little Scottie dog. Roosevelt defended Fala, saying the attacks on the little dog were completely unwarranted. In the speech, FDR says, “I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them…He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself…But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.”
- Liberty, belonging to Gerald Ford
It was Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan who decided to give her father the gift of Liberty – the golden retriever that is! Susan Ford got White House photographer David Hume Kennerly to help her find the perfect puppy for her parents. When Kennerly contacted the breeder, he didn’t want to reveal the dog was intended for the President of the United States. The breeder asked a lot of questions – and was even skeptical about the prospective family! That is until Kennerly finally revealed who Liberty’s new family would be. Then the breeder was thrilled!
Liberty adjusted well to the White House, and Ford adored her immediately. Often Ford was the one taking her for walks. After some time, the family decided to breed Liberty with a golden retriever from Oregon. The 9 puppies were born right in the White House. Four of the puppies were given away as gifts, three were purchased by friends, and one was given to Leader Dogs for The Blind. And the last puppy? The Fords decided to keep her.
Misty the puppy grew up in the White House, playing and exploring alongside her mother Liberty. She tended to get herself into trouble though! Ford’s wife Betty has memories of Misty and Liberty picking up important documents off of the floor with their mouths. Misty also eventually became a mother, following the tradition her mother Liberty started.
- Rex, belonging to Ronald Reagan
Rex was not the first dog the Reagan’s brought into the White House, but he was perhaps the most memorable. After sending their high-energy Bouvier des Flandres named Lucky to live at their California ranch, the Reagan’s were left in the White House with no dog. That is until William F. Buckley gave the Reagan’s a little Cavalier King Charles spaniel as a gift.
Rex, though small, was a bundle of energy. He could often be seen pulling President Reagan along on the leash. Some suspected this was Reagan’s way of avoiding reporters! Many people also reported hearing Rex barking incessantly – outside of the Lincoln Bedroom. The little dog refused to ever set foot in the bedroom, which is rumored to be haunted. He was constantly barking at something only he could see.
The little spaniel was certainly spoiled. One of his first official duties as First Dog was to flip the switch that lit the Christmas tree in 1985. Later on, he was given the gift of a custom designed dog house. The house was designed by Theo Hayes, the great-great-grandson of President Rutherford B. Hayes. The house even featured tiny portraits of the Reagan’s hanging on the inside!
- Buddy, belonging to Bill Clinton
Buddy the chocolate Lab didn’t arrive on the scene until Bill Clinton’s second term, when he decided to bring the 3-month-old puppy into the White House. The two became fast friends.
But Buddy wasn’t the only pet in the White House during the Clinton administration. Socks the cat became Buddy’s rival, and the two animals became famous for their feuds. When Buddy first arrived at the White House, Socks famously hissed at the puppy on the White House lawn.
The public loved both of them though. Fan clubs sprung up across the country devoted to Buddy. The dog received many letters from children across the United States. Hillary Clinton published a book of the letters their pets received called Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets. The proceeds from the book were donated to the National Park Service.
Buddy was always playful, friendly, and eager to make a friend. Tragically, his friendly nature is what ultimately caused his death. After Bill Clinton’s second term, Buddy was living at home with the Clinton family. He ran to greet a contractor and was hit by a passing vehicle. The accident was deeply saddening, but Buddy will always be remembered for his playful spirit.
Do you have a favorite First Dog? Is there a breed you would love to see living in the White House someday? Share it with us!