I found about 100 stories about human trash doing trashy human stuff. And, for whatever reason, I just found it all too depressing. At some point the strippers and the politicians and the Floridians just get to be too much. Especially the Floridians. They just grind your soul into dust after a while. So, I went looking for something different. Something that would make me smile. But, with me being me, it couldn’t be the usual treacle. No plucky cancer survivor meets favorite ball player. No octogenarian graduates grammar school. No super cripples running back to back marathons and making normal humans look lazy. I toss that one in for my buddy Fred who has cerebral palsy and hates, with a passion you wouldn’t believe, every single super cripple story in the media. Mostly because they make such actions somehow seem to be the norm and then guys like Fred, who needs help getting in and out of his chair, get compared to them relentlessly. Imagine if every black male was compared to President Obama? At some point, usually very quickly, it stops being inspirational and starts becoming confrontational. Goals are those things you have to set for yourself not something that should be nailed to your forehead.
Anyway, I finally found something worth a smile. Marc Hartzman, at Huffington Post, has provided us with a history of presidential pets. And, thankfully, they are a very odd lot.
Like many presidents before him, Barack Obama shares space at the White House with a family dog, Bo. And should Mitt Romney make the move to Pennsylvania Avenue, I’m pretty sure he won’t be packing a dog on the roof of his moving truck. But Rafalca, the Oldenburg Mare co-owned by Mitt’s wife, Ann, might make an appearance.
Pets have roamed the White House grounds as long as presidents have. But in terms of menageries, no leader of the free world can compete with Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president. The star of his four-legged fleet was a pygmy hippopotamus named Billy.
The pet was a gift from tire manufacturer Harvey S. Firestone in 1927. The rare baby hippo was just one of eight of his kind living in America and measured six feet long, stood thirty inches tall, and weighed about 600 pounds. He was described by The New York Times as being “as frisky as a dog.” Billy had been captured in Liberia at one of Firestone’s plants, but once under Coolidge’s care, he spent his days at the much cozier National Zoo.
The hippo was only one of Coolidge’s unusual pets. The Commander in Chief’s collection also included numerous dogs and cats, along with two lion cubs, a bear, Smoky Bob the bobcat, an antelope, a raccoon called Rebecca, and a wallaby. Like many of the animals, the wallaby was a gift, in this case from an American man living in Tasmania. When the president was offered the wallaby in a letter, he hadn’t a clue as to what sort of animal it was. A quick flip-through in the dictionary told him it was a small species of kangaroo and led Coolidge to accept the gift.
Although no other president could boast such a collection of creatures, there have been many others who’ve kept curious pets. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, acquired a badger named Josiah in 1903 after a young girl threw the little beast at the president as his train pulled out of a small Kansas town. Roosevelt kept Josiah and the First Family bottle-fed him until he cut his teeth. Once armed with his own chompers, Josiah nipped at the legs of passersby throughout the White House.
William Taft, our nation’s 27th and heaviest president (tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds) kept a Holstein cow as a pet. The first, named Mooly Wooly provided milk for the First Family. However, Mooly Wooly couldn’t produce enough milk for the large Taft clan. So Wisconsin senator Isaac Stephenson bought the president a new cow, named Pauline Wayne. From 1910-1913, the Taft’s pet cow freely grazed the White House lawn.
Benjamin Harrison, President Number 23, kept a goat named Old Whiskers. Harrison’s grandchildren were big fans of Old Whiskers, as he was often hitched to a cart in order to pull them around the White House lawn. However, the goat may not have had as much fun as the kids. One day, he managed to escape the White House grounds through an open gate and ran toward freedom down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president chased after him, waving his cane and holding onto his top hat. Old Whiskers finally came to a stop. No one was injured, but many were entertained.
Herbert Hoover kept two alligators in the White House and allowed them to occasionally wander about freely. Perhaps he was inspired by John Quincy Adams, who kept only one alligator. Adams’ gator was given to him in 1826 by the Marquis de Lafayette.
While dogs like Bo have held the title of First Pet in the modern era, it would take a cuddly, loyal elephant, giraffe, or rhino to truly be a first.
A cuddly rhino sounds cool.
Although something tells me that if our current president made a pet of a wild African animal it might cause some PR difficulties.
Then again, he’s only got one more term anyway so he may as well have fun.
Nine Inch Nails: Closer (Uncensored) (1994) from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo.
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