Why doesn’t President Trump have a pet?

Donald Trump, Bald Eagle, Uncle Sam
Time Magazine

“Do you think President and Mrs. Trump will get a dog?” As an East Wing historian and author of “Pets at the White House,” I get asked this question a lot. The reality is, it wouldn’t be unprecedented if the Trumps did not get a new dog or cat during their first term, or even at all.

{mosads}There is no evidence of the Trumps owning pets in their immaculate 5th Avenue Trump Tower apartment before coming to the White House. But some first families have opted to get a pet in the White House even if they did not have one previously. President Truman did not have a pet in the White House, unless you count Feller, the Cocker Spaniel he promptly re-gifted to his physician.

President Obama’s daughter Malia was allergic to animal fur so that had long ruled out them having a pet while in Chicago. However, when he gave his Grant Park victory speech, one memorable line was, “Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much … and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” Soon after, came the arrival of Bo, a hypoallergenic Portuguese Water Dog.

 Our 31st President Herbert Hoover was an avid dog lover who was the first to really use a pet for political purposes. Following campaign advice, with hopes of shaping his image into something warmer and more charismatic, he released a photograph of himself with his German Shepherd, King Tut.

Thousands of signed copies circulated around the country of the smiling presidential hopeful holding up the paws of his dog — and it worked. Hoover won the presidency, and King Tut moved into the First Residence.

Some have accused first families of getting presidential pets just for PR or in an effort to humanize them while living in the White House. President Bill Clinton had Socks the cat, and Buddy the chocolate Labrador who was purchased when Chelsea left for college. Some pundits claimed Buddy was actually brought to the White House to help with the president’s image during the height of the Lewinsky scandal.

Stories that really got the media’s attention included when the Soviet Prime Minister gave young Caroline Kennedy a famous puppy, which had to be put through a battery of tests in search of hidden listening devices and bombs!

A custom birthing box was created by Executive Resident carpenters for Millie while she was pregnant with presidential puppies during the George H.W. Bush administration.

President George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier Barney became a celebrity in his own right, appearing in more than 10 films while he was at the White House. And something President Trump might appreciate: Barney was known to bite a member of the White House press pool.

Historically, famous presidential pets of all kinds date back to the earliest years of our republic, when the varied assortments of animals living at the Executive Mansion mirrored those found at many Americans’ homes. So, the idea of a presidential pet has evolved from a time when horses, cows, goats, chickens, raccoons, and even sheep roamed around the White House, to the more domestic animals today such as dogs, cats, birds and other small pets. So let’s not limit the Trumps to only the possibility of a dog or cat.

Clearly, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, was one of the most celebrated presidential animal lovers. Roosevelt, along with his six children, moved into America’s House with an ever-evolving menagerie of pets. Over time, the mix included a pony, sheep, dogs, cats, a macaw, guinea pigs, two kangaroo rats, a snake, a black bear, and a one-legged rooster — and that’s just a partial list.

In 1908 the Washington Evening Star observed: “There is no home in Washington so full of pets of high and low degree as is the White House, and those pets not only occupy the attention of the children, but the President is himself their good friend, and has a personal interest in every one of them.” 

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump could think outside the presidential pet box in a unique way by following the lead of daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who supports causes that rescue animals. In the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, the first couple could become conservationists and foster an orphaned elephant. During the first lady’s historic trip to Africa last year she visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya where she fed a baby orphaned elephant. And as the elephant is the mascot of the GOP — this would be a nontraditional move, yet one that is still in line with history.

There could be a presidential fish in a beautiful salt water fish tank in the West Wing or the private quarters of the Executive Residence. President Kennedy was an avid fisherman who had prized marlin hanging on the wall of what used to be called the Fish Room, known today as the Roosevelt Room. So a fish tank might be fitting in there, in historical honor of both Kennedy and Roosevelt.

If the Trumps decide to get a pet, it would definitely become an instant social media celebrity, much like the Obamas’ dog Sunny, Bush 43’s Barney, the Clintons’ cat Socks, the Fords’ Liberty, FDR’s Fala, or Bush 41’s beloved Millie — the greatest champion of all White House pets. Even Rebecca the raccoon, whom first lady Grace Coolidge walked on a leash and had a special house built just for her, became a household name in her own right.

While the palace pet intrigue is high, the media is so wrong in stating that Trump is the first president in modern day history to not have one. Many forget President Reagan did not have a pet of any kind living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during his first four years in office. It wasn’t until four years after he took the oath of office — following a historic landslide re-election — that the Reagans welcomed a new dog to the White House called Lucky.

After Lucky went to live at the Reagan Ranch, Reagan adopted Rex, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named for Chief Usher Rex Scouten, from William F. Buckley. So, perhaps Trump is going to follow the Reagan White House pet model and get a pet, only after winning re-election.

Jennifer Boswell Pickens is a White House East Wing historian with expertise in White House traditions, social events and first ladies. She is a public speaker and author of two books, “Christmas at the White House” and “Pets at the White House.” Follow her on Twitter at @JenniferPickens.

Tags Bill Clinton Donald Trump first family Jennifer Boswell Pickens Melania Trump Oval Office Pets presidential pets White House

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