President Harry Truman famously said, “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” The 33rd president’s quote especially rings true in the White House, where 33 presidents have owned dogs as pets. However, plenty of cats have called the White House home, and many have stories as interesting as their canine counterparts.
Dogs versus cats in the US: By sheer numbers, cats are more popular than dogs in America. According to a 2020 survey by the American Pet Products Association, there are 88.3 million cat’s owners compared to the 74.4 million owners who have dogs. By volume, however, fish are the most common pets, clocking in at nearly 152 million.
So, it should not be surprising that a few felines have enjoyed their time in the White House and here are some notable examples of the 11 US presidents who have owned cats.
- Abraham Lincoln. When Mary Todd Lincoln was asked if her husband had a hobby, she replied, “cats.” In addition to the two cats he kept in the White House named Tabby and Dixie, Lincoln was known to bring in strays.
- Theodore Roosevelt. The 26th president had two six-toed cats named Slippers and Tom Quartz (the latter was named after a character in a Mark Twain book). Slippers was known for sleeping sprawled out in the middle of hallways, causing guests of a state banquet to walk around her on one occasion.
- Calvin Coolidge. “Silent Cal” was an avid cat lover who purportedly saved a litter of kittens from being drowned as a young boy. While serving as president, Coolidge had at least four cats at the White House – Tiger, Blackie, Timmy, and Smokey. Coolidge originally brought Tiger (or “Tige” as he was nicknamed) to Washington from his farm in Vermont, and he frequently walked around the White House with Tiger draped around his neck. After Tiger sneaked out of the White House in March 1924, Coolidge directed the Secret Service to issue a radio broadcast on the missing cat. A listener eventually spotted Tiger sleeping near the National Mall and brought him back to the White House in a taxicab.
- Rutherford Hayes, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. All three presidents brought Siamese cats into the White House. Hayes’ cat Siam was one of many animals to occupy the Executive Mansion at the time, while Ford gifted a cat named Shan to his daughter for Easter. Carter’s cat was named Misty Malarky Ying Yang, which inspired the name of a Gabor Szabo song.
- Bill Clinton. A stray, bicolor cat reportedly jumped into the arms of Chelsea Clinton as she was leaving her piano teacher’s house 1991. Chelsea named the cat Socks, and the rest is history. During his time in the White House, Socks became somewhat of a pop culture figure, having been the subject of a Murphy Brown episode and a virtual “guide” to children visiting the White House website. Socks enjoyed sitting on the president’s shoulders, and he even had his own carrying case emblazoned with the presidential seal. After the Clintons left the White House, Socks went to live with a staffer named Betty Currie in Maryland, where he died in 2009 at the age of 20.
- George W. Bush. George and Laura Bush adopted a black cat in 1991 who they named India after a Texas Rangers baseball player nicknamed “El Indio.” India, who wasn’t as well known as the Bushes’ Scottish terriers, died in January 2009, just weeks before the Obamas moved into the White House. The Bushes also had a six-toed cat named Ernie but gave him away to a friend before moving to Washington because of his tendency to claw furniture.
What about the Bidens? For now, the First Family has two German Shepherds, Major and Champ. However, the First Lady announced in April 2021 that they plan on adopting a cat from a local shelter but, there have been no updates since then. Therefore, the question remains unanswered on whether the White House will have a feline occupant for the first time since 2009.