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Presidential Pets.

Pick an animal--go ahead, any animal that staggered off the Ark--and chances are that Niall Kelly, author of Presidential Pets, has turned up evidence that your choice has at one time had the run of the White House. Or at least the White House grounds. Whether Woodrow Wilson's tobacco-chewing mule ever made it through the back door, Mr. Kelly fails to note. (If so, we can only speculate that it was promptly booted out the first time it missed the cuspidor.)

Although George Washington didn't occupy the presidential residence, freedom to use the building for the pampering of pets could very well have been inspired by our first president. "Washington owned many dogs," Kelly writes, "which he gave delightful names." (One of the most delightful being Madame Moose.) "Martha Washington settled for a green parrot, spending 10 days agreeably teaching it to sing |Pauvre Madelon.'"

These and dozens of other great moments in history fill the 102 pages of this beautifully designed little volume. Pictures of first pets and Kelly's first-rate writing make it as hard to put down as a purring kitten. Fascinating, charming, often hilarious, Presidential Pets serves to remind us of who our best friends really are.

Here you will follow Washington's frustrating attempt to create a line of "supermules." You will learn that in place of a Rose Garden Jefferson had what his opponents called "The President's Bear Garden," referring to his taking his grizzly bears out of their cage and promenading them around the grounds. And were it not for Mr. Kelly's research, we might never have known that Jefferson's favorite pet inside the White House was a mockingbird named Dick, who not only could imitate dogs and cats but was even taught to accompany the president when he played the violin.

And did you know that dry, cold politician John Quincy Adams turned all warm and mushy when it came to pets? These ran the gamut from an alligator housed in the East Room to silkworms from which his wife, Louisa, spun the silk and created her own gowns. Or how about the fighting cocks that Andrew Jackson brought to the White House? They were found to be less successful in combat than his stable of fillies competing on local racetracks.

We can also thank the author for acquainting us with Martin Van Buren's tiger cubs; William Henry Harrison's cow Sukey; Zachary Taylor's horse, allowed to graze on the White House lawn where visitors plucked hairs from his tail for souvenirs; and James Buchanan's dog Lara, a Newfoundland famous for its ability to pose with one eye open and one eye closed.

Lincoln's goats that rode in the carriage; Jackson's two Jersey cows and his mice; Hayes' greyhound that "positioned itself in the tracks of an oncoming train;" McKinley's parrot crying out to every group of passing women, "Oh, look at all the pretty girls;" Theodore Roosevelt's piebald rat, flying squirrel, and one-legged chicken; they're all here, down to the finest and funniest detail.

As for Mooly Wooly, the cow William Howard Taft brought to the White House; Old Ike, Woodrow Wilson's ram, and Puffins, the cat; Laddie Boy, the Airedale that became the one bright spot in Warren Harding's scandal-ridden administration; the pigmy hippo that highlighted the menagerie of cats, dogs, birds, a raccoon, a baby bear, a wallaby, a pair of lion cubs, an antelope, a donkey, and a goose sent to the White House by friends and the general populace to liven the place up while "Silent Cal" Coolidge was in residence--you'll have to read the results for yourself.

We will add Will Rogers' comment in describing his dinner with the Coolidges:

"Well, they was feeding the dogs so much that at one time it looked to me that the dogs was getting more than I was. The butler was so slow in bringing one course that I come pretty near getting down on my all fours and barking to see if business wouldn't pick up with me."

And so it goes, from George Washington to George Bush and the Bushes' celebrated dog Millie, no president is omitted, no pet overlooked. Herbert Hoover's possum is here, FDR's famous dog Fala, Truman's dog Feller, Eisenhower's squirrels, (not quite pets, as they dug up his putting green), the Kennedys' problem with pets, Johnson's popularity earache from mishandling his beagles, Nixon's dog Checkers that scuttled a brewing scandal, Ford's dog Liberty that got him locked out of the family quarters, the Carters' dog Grits (and the rabbit attack), the Reagans' dog that was exiled to the ranch and then Rex who qualified for White House status.

If you are a lover of animals and can raise the required sum of $10.95, we recommend numbering the purchase of Presidential Pets among your pet projects. You'll find it more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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