Growing up in New York City, I was never allowed to have a pet. My younger brother and I longed for a dog, but my parents scoffed at the idea every time we mentioned it. In fact, we would have settled for a cat as a companion if not for my mom’s insistence she had a cat allergy, despite the puzzling fact she had several cats when she was a kid.
When I heard that Ann Romney’s horse, Rafalca, was competing in the 2012 Olympics, I wondered; what kind of interesting things could I have done with my pet if I had owned one? Everyone has interesting tales about his or her pet, but I had never been given the opportunity to create a story of my own. Could I train my dog to walk everywhere on its hind legs? How about a parakeet who would tell my friends “you’re ugly” when they popped in for a visit? Doubtful, but it’s all speculation at this point. People have done crazier things.
In honor of Rafalca, here is a list of six politicians who have had interesting and quirky animal stories.
1. President Lyndon Johnson and his dog, Him:
Perhaps the weirdest part of the story is that LBJ named his dog Him, but let’s move past that. LBJ caused an eruption of controversy when he was photographed lifting his beagle by the ears on the White House lawn. Johnson considered it a playful attempt to make Him perform tricks for the media, but it backfired, creating widespread criticism of the president and claims of overt animal cruelty. I think it’s safe to say that pulling on an animal’s ears isn’t the best the way to win over the paparazzi.
2. President John Quincy Adams and his alligator:
Yes, you read that correctly, John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator. A gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, the president’s alligator resided in the East Wing of the White House. Personally, I don’t see the appeal of a pet alligator, but maybe it was used a scare tactic in the White House. I don’t believe it was meant to be a threat against the U.S. president by our French friends.
3. President Calvin Coolidge and his array of animals:
Calvin Coolidge wins the award for most pets owned in the history of the White House. In addition to his 11 dogs, ranging from a white collie to a bulldog, the president brought birds, bobcats, geese, raccoons, cats and donkeys with him when he moved into the oval office. As a result of his love for animals, foreign diplomats offered as gifts to the president and his wife animals representative of their countries. These included lions, bears, antelopes, hippos, and wild birds. I think it’s fair to conclude that Coolidge enjoyed living in a zoo. Must have made for interesting metaphors in the press regarding the day’s political scene…
4. Mitt Romney and his dog, Seamus:
During a family vacation in 1983, Romney and his family strapped their Irish setter Seamus, in a carrier, to the top of their car for a 12-hour journey to Canada. After being forgotten for nearly 25 years, the story resurfaced during Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, creating widespread controversy and arguments. Then, in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum utilized the Seamus incident as a way to question Romney’s character and ability to run the country.
5. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his dog, Fala:
Fala has proven to be arguably the most famous pet in the history of United States politics. Given to the President as a present from his cousin, the Scottish terrier became a central part of FDR’s public image as he was photographed countless times with the president. His tricks and pranks fascinated the media on a daily basis. Fala is even featured as part of FDR’s memorial in Washington D.C.
6. Stubbs, the cat who is a mayor in Alaska:
Maybe Sarah Palin isn’t the most interesting politician in Alaska after all. 15 years ago, the residents of Talkeetna, Alaska, were so unhappy with their candidates for mayor that they started a campaign for Stubbs to become mayor and the cat has held the position ever since. Democracy at its finest.