The Bidens’ Dogs Are in the News, But These 5 Long-Forgotten Presidential Pets Deserve More Attention

Heel, Champ and Major—you may be the first rescue dogs in the White House, but that doesn't mean you're better than Dolley Madison's gibbon.

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With Joe Biden in the White House, the nation heaved a massive sigh of relief that normality has returned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Finally, after four years, we have a president with pets! Welcome to the national stage, Champ and Major!

And as journalists everywhere settled back in to the joys of fluff pieces about animals, we couldn’t help but recall other presidential pets. Sure, Socks gets all the attention—multiple books, a major role in a Murphy Brown episode, an interview with Kermit—but don’t forget, Socks was ultimately left with the Clintons’ secretary in favor of their dog, Buddy. These 5 pets also met similarly melancholy fates, in addition to being left out of the history books.

Ronald Reagan’s Peacock
This presidential pet didn’t quite last both terms. Though he displayed his plumage during Reagan’s years in Sacramento as governor of California and during Reagan’s first four years in office, Nancy Reagan’s astrologer Joan Quigley warned her that Willard was partly responsible for the looming Iran-Contra mess. So Nancy quickly ordered the peacock put down. She and Ronnie were haunted by the peacock’s cries for the rest of their lives—though some claim those screams were actually the sound of the millions of gay men dying of AIDS who were ignored by Reagan’s administration.

Dolley Madison’s Gibbon
How Dolley Madison—wife of fourth president James Madison—acquired a gibbon monkey has been lost to the winds of time, but what has been documented is that Van Buren (named as an in-joke between the First Lady and her husband) was the first to raise the alarm when torch-bearing British troops marched into Washington, D.C. Van Buren’s shrieks saved untold lives and important documents that night, but he himself sadly perished in the blaze.

The Harding’s Siamese Cat
Imperious and aloof, rumors swirled that Selina was actually First Lady Florence Harding’s familiar, there to spy on all of Florence’s many enemies within her husband’s administration. Though Florence was often seen with Selina perched on her shoulder, furiously adding names and notes to the small red leather book in which she chronicled those who displeased her, there is no proof that Selina was whispering those names to her mistress.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s Parrot
Bernard could only say “Pretty dress!” and “Buy more!” That eventually became problematic for the Lincoln’s finances, but did offer a sliver of solace as Mary descended into melancholy loneliness. Bernard also had exquisite taste, perhaps thanks to his earlier years as the companion to Abraham Lincoln’s close friend Joshua Speed.

James Buchanan’s Llama
Famously the only bachelor president in American history, James Buchanan named his beloved niece Harriet Lane as the acting First Lady, but for friendship and understanding, he turned to his llama Percival. A six-foot beast with a dazzling white coat, he was often seen at the president’s side, munching happily from a bucket of dried wheatgrass. Percival was also known to spit at congressmen who disagreed with the president, which is why Buchanan and his allies were jokingly known as the Llama-tarians. 

About W.H. Nance More Articles
W.H. Nance has been a reporter covering gay life and culture for three award-eligible decades. His work has been collected in birdcages and hoarders' garages around the country.
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