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Western explorer Zebulon Pike (after whom Colorado’s Pike’s Peak was named) gave two grizzly bear cubs to President Thomas Jefferson (1801– 1809) back in 1807. The bears made a home in a display cage on the White House lawn. They were cute little ambassadors for venturing west of the Mississippi River until they grew too big for the job and had to be relocated.
The Marquis de Lafayette was famous for leaving France and fighting with the Americans in the Revolution. He was also an infamous re-gifter. Shortly after he was given a baby alligator during his travels in Florida, he spent some time at the White House with his friend, John Quincy Adams (1825–1829). The president allowed the baby gator to stay in a bathtub in the East Room. Several months later, Lafayette returned to France and gave the gator to the First Family. It apparently moved to roomier digs in a nearby zoo when the confines of the bathtub grew too small.
Which president turned the White House into a zoo? While political analysts may respond with a number of candidates, the literal answer to the question is Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt and his six children had 12 horses, five bears, five guinea pigs, five dogs, two cats, two parrots, a lion, a hyena, a wildcat, a coyote, a zebra, rats, snakes, roosters, a raccoon, a horned toad, a rabbit, a badger, a blue macaw, a barn owl, a pony and a pig. With all these creatures running about, it’s no wonder he advised the nation to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
The only president to come close to this record is Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929). While Coolidge was a quiet, reserved soul in politics, he had an extroverted wife and two sons at home. They filled the White House with a mirthful menagerie of 12 dogs, four birds, three cats, two raccoons, a donkey, a bobcat, a thrush (a type of bird), a goose, a bear, an antelope, a wallaby, a pygmy hippo and some lion cubs.
Of all the animals that made their home at the White House during his presidency, Rebecca the raccoon was President Coolidge’s favorite. He had a special house built for Rebecca, visited her every day, and walked her around the White House on a leash.When the White House was being repaired and President Coolidge and his family had to move temporarily, the President worried that Rebecca might get lonely, so he sent a limousine to bring her from the White House to stay with them!
So, as you can see, lions and tigers and bears — and everything in between — have called the White House home at one time or another.
Editor’s note: In general, most veterinary experts do not recommend giving pets as gifts. Keeping wildlife as pets is also not recommended and, in many neighborhoods, is not legal.
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