U.S. Presidents with Cats

Photo Credit: d_horkey via Flickr

How much do you know about your presidential kitties? Out of the 44 men who have had the prestigious honor of being president of the United States, 12 have been cat owners. There are some pretty important presidents on this list; Coincidence? I think not.

Cats enter the White House

Pet cats first came to the White House courtesy of the 16th U.S. President –Abraham Lincoln. His cat, Tabby, was one of many pets that roamed the White House during his presidency. President Lincoln was a well-known animal lover and rescuer. His biggest love and “hobby” (according to his wife) was cats.  Friends of President Lincoln knew him to stroke a cat in his lap for an hour.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln with the Troops
Photo Credit: Rusian Flickr

Memoirs from Lincoln’s presidency noted a time at the end of the Civil War when Lincoln’s love for cats shined through. He met with General Grant and Admiral David Porter to discuss the resolution of the Civil War. In the midst of this critical meeting where the whole country was hanging in the balance, President Lincoln was distracted by the purring of some kittens. He retrieved the kittens, placed them in his lap and began to stroke them. He was then told that the mother of the kittens had died. President Lincoln spoke gently to the cats and promised to make sure they would get the care they need. He had them in his lap when the meeting resumed.

Mrs. Lincoln was not as pleased with pets as was President Lincoln. She scolded him once for feeding Tabby from the dinner table at the White House. However, President Lincoln felt that if the gold utensils were good enough for him, then they were good enough for Tabby. After President Lincoln’s death, Mrs. Lincoln gave away all of the pets.

Other U.S. Presidents with Cats

  • Rutherford B. Hayes (19th U.S. President) had a seal point Siamese cat named Siam. Siam was the first Siamese cat to enter the U.S. She was given to the Hayes family by David B. Sickles, a U.S. consulate in Bangkok, Thailand. Unfortunately, Siam became ill after several months at the White House and never recovered. There were instructions given to preserve the body, but no one knows what happened to the stuffed cat.
  • William McKinley (25th U.S. President) had two Turkish Angora cats  – Valeriano Welyer and Enrique DeLome. Both cats were named after foreign officials. Valeriano Welyer was the governor of Cuba at the time and Enrique DeLome was an ambassador from Spain.
  • Red. white and blue Icing

    Photo Credit: abbamouse Flickr

    Theodore Roosevelt (26th U.S. President) had two cats named Tom Quartz and Slippers.  Tom Quartz was named after a mining cat in the Mark Twain novel Roughing It.  Slippers was a polydactyl kitty that liked to sleep in the middle of the hallway (people would have to step around her).

  • Woodrow Wilson (28th U.S President) had a cat named Puffins.
  • Calvin Coolidge (30th U.S. President)  had 3 cats – Smokey the bobcat, Blacky, and Tiger the tabby. The Coolidges were quite fond of animals and had a bit of a zoo at the White House. At one point, they even had 2 tigers that they named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau just for fun.
  • John F. Kennedy (35th U.S. President) had a cat named Tom Kitten.
  • Gerald Ford (38th U.S. President) had a Siamese cat named Shan. Susan, President Ford’s daughter, was Shan’s official owner. According to Susan, Shan was fed only canned food (table scraps were not available), was declawed to protect the furniture, preferred women to men, and hated being left behind when the family went on vacation. Shan was popular enough with the American people to make the cover of People Magazine.
  • Jimmy Carter  (39th U.S. President) had a cat named Misty Malarky Ying Yang (named by his daughter).
  • Ronald Reagan (40th U.S. President)  had two cats named Cleo and Sara. However, these cats didn’t accompany him to the White House. They got to stay at home in his Texas ranch.

The Latest Editions

The 90’s brought a new wave of technology that allowed for people to see even further into the President’s life. Now everyone everywhere gets to see all of the President’s pets. It seems that presidential pets are more popular than ever! The latest 2 presidents to have cats as pets were Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Socks Clinton - US Embassy Jakarta

Socks Clinton
Photo Credit: US Embassy, Jakarta Flickr

Bill Clinton had a very popular cat named Socks. She was a beautiful black and white kitty that had come to the Clinton family as a stray. Once the Clintons were in the White House, photographers couldn’t get enough of the adorable Socks. Some photographers would use catnip just to get a better shot. Eventually, the Clintons had to ask the press to give the poor kitty a break.

Socks made a number of appearances in the media. There was an episode on the hit 90’s television show Murphy Brown called Sox and the Single Girl in which a character accidentally cat-napped Socks from the White House. Socks also made an appearance on Larry King Live but as a muppet being interviewed by Kermit the frog. There was even a video game starring Socks, but it was never released.  Socks lived to be 20 years old.

The latest edition to the presidential cat family was George W. Bush’s cat, India “Willie.” India was a gorgeous all black kitty. While some people in the country of India found the cat’s name to be offensive, the Bush family maintained that she was named after Texas Rangers baseball player Ruben Sierra (” El Indio”).   She was on the shyer side and didn’t get quite as much attention as the Bush family dogs did. Her favorite place to hide was under the bed and she loved tuna treats. Despite her shyness, she did make the March 2008 issue of Architectural Digest. She passed away while the Bush family was still in the White House at the ripe old age of 18.

What do you think, should the next U.S. President to be a cat owner?

Sources & Digging Deeper

Lincoln Pets – National Park Service

Abraham Lincoln, Pets & Children – Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom

The White House Grounds & Entrance: Pets – Mr. Lincoln’s White House

Siam: America’s First Siamese Cat – Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center

William McKinley  – The Presidential Pet Museum

Tom Quartz and Jack  – Bartleby.com

The President’s House – Margret Truman

The Pets of Woodrow Wilson – America Comes Alive

Pets in the Kennedy White House – JFKLibrary.org

Ford Family White House Pets – Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

A Siamese If You Please – Presidential Pet Museum

Socks, former Clinton cat, put to sleep – CNN

George W. Bush Cat – India – Presidential Pet Museum