Pets in Power: Favorite Companions of Historical Figures

Just about everyone remembers the excitement of the Obamas receiving their first dog, Bo – a Portuguese water dog – who was later joined by Sunny in antics around the White House. Poor Socks was so hounded by photographers while she served as First Cat that the Clintons had to formally request she be left in peace. And who isn’t aware of Queen Elizabeth II’s fondness for Pembroke Welsh corgis; a love inspired after she received her first as a gift from her father in 1933.

But what about some of the more obscure members of the elite “First Pet” club?

How many people know about Jock?

Fala?

Larry?

Poll?

What about Lennu or JoJo?

It turns out that the leaders we look to and admire share the same quality we do: a fondness for animals. Why not? Evidence has shown that sharing life with a pet lowers stress levels, keeps blood pressure down, promotes happiness, and strengthens empathy. The love we have for the furry members of our family is the same shown by some of our favorite historical leaders – as you’re about to see!

Presidential Pets

From George Washington, who created the American foxhound breed to George H.W. Bush’s famous English springer spaniel, Millie (who dictated Millie’s Book), animals have stood beside our presidents from the very beginning.

Of course, not every entry in the presidential line-up was stellar. Andrew Jackson owned a grey parrot named Poll. True to parrot form, Poll learned to pick up words while living with Jackson, starting when he was a soldier. While Jackson became a more pious man later in life, Poll failed to follow his example. When Jackson was laid to rest in 1845, Poll “entertained” the mourners with offensive swear words. (Oops!)

Abraham Lincoln was a genuine cat person, allowing strays into the White House. His two favorite cats were Tabby and Dixie, and he let Tabby eat from the table during formal dinners. (You probably scold your kids for feeding the dog at the table!) He allegedly even remarked, “Dixie is smarter than my whole cabinet. Furthermore, she doesn’t talk back.” Turns out pets were smarter than politicians even back in those days!

Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor doted on their Scottish terrier, Fala. Allegedly, Fala was accidentally left behind during a trip to the Aleutian Islands in 1944. Republican opponents in Congress claimed that Roosevelt sent a U.S. Navy Destroyer to pick Fala up – at taxpayers’ expense, of course. Roosevelt denied the claim and defended poor Fala in a famous speech that later came to be known as the “Fala Speech.” Fala was buried beside Roosevelt, and a statue of him sits beside Roosevelt at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. If that doesn’t speak of love and devotion, on both sides, nothing does.

Worldwide Wags and Whiskers

As it turns out, the penchant for loving animals spans the globe. Cuddling up with a furry member of the family is a language universally spoken, and leaders’ cats and dogs have been stealing the show – and hearts – for some time.

Marie Antoinette owned six angora cats who lived with her at the Palace of Versailles – a true lap of luxury! When the Queen knew trouble was coming for her in the form of the French Revolution, she made plans to escape to the Northern United States via ship. While she was captured and arrested, Captain Clough loaded the cats and a lot of the most expensive furnishings from the palace aboard and escaped. Legend holds those six may have become the ancestors for the Maine coon breed (it’s one of the legends, anyway).

Winston Churchill owned a veritable menagerie of animals: fish, horses, a pig, two poodles, cats, and even an African lion (he was smart enough to donate the lion to the London Zoo). One of his favorite cats was a marmalade named Jock who traveled with him between London and his country estate, Chartwell. Jock was so well-loved by the Churchill family that the National Trust now officially keeps a marmalade cat named Jock at Chartwell to this day.

Since the 1970s, all of the French Presidents have owned Labrador retrievers. Breaking slightly with tradition, President Emmanuel Macron and his wife adopted a Labrador-Griffon cross from a rescue. Named Nemo after Macron’s favorite character from 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he became the first rescue to join the exalted ranks of First Pets. He also made headlines when he chose to…relieve himself…on a fireplace during a press conference. Turns out Poll isn’t the only First Pet with a negative public mark on his record!

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak shares his life with four cats: Leo, Kiki, Tiger, and Simba. The four are properly pampered, and they often get to appear on social media, courtesy of their proud “dad.” Razak also feels that the quartet are quite responsible, trusting them to watch the house when he’s out traveling. Well, with names that strong, how could you not feel safe?

Finland’s President Sauli Niinsto often finds himself upstaged by his Boston terrier, Lennu. After being dismissed as “unphotogenic” due to his hyperactive nature and refusal to sit still for photographers, Lennu gained popularity during a photoshoot when his broad “smile” captured the hearts of pet-lovers the world over. His perpetually happy face has made him even more popular than Niinsto – but any true pet-lover knows to expect that, right?

If anyone would understand, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball does. Turnball not only shares his home with three dogs – Roxy, JoJo, and Dusty – he hosted a dog blog where he wrote posts in the voices of the dogs. He made sure that his posts were true to dog form, as well as thought-provoking for the human readers, and the “trio” have fans all over the world.

Number 10 Downing Street is the property and domain of Larry the cat, the Chief Mouser for the Prime Minister of England. An adopted stray, Larry has his own book (Larry Diaries: Downing Street – The First 100 Days) and Wikipedia page. He’s had his ups and downs with Prime Ministers – Theresa May was more of a dog person and refused to let him into her office – but he remains a proud fixture of Number 10. He was even spotted snoozing outside the door in a Google photo!

Social Media-Savvy Spots and Stripes

Whether it’s former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper letting Facebook pick the name of his family’s tabby kitten (Stanley – as all true hockey fans should have known), or current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau having to post a picture of his family’s Portuguese water dog, Kenzie, to prove her existence, social media has made our leader’s furry family members a bigger part of our lives. We’re curious about these cats and dogs who add an element of humanity to the men and women responsible for guiding our countries, and we embrace the chance to see these First Pets in their element.

We may not be in charge of making decisions that affect millions of people’s lives, but at least we know we have a few things in common with our leaders: they’re also slaves to the can opener and leash, and when Larry is in that chair – no matter how exalted a chair it may be – you’re going to have to sit somewhere else.