We’re here today to pay honor to the most presidential of cats, the First Felines of the White House. You may be familiar with a couple – like the Clintons’ beloved fellow Socks, or the very first cats who went to Washington with Abraham Lincoln but did you know, TEN of our presidents and their families have been blessed to share their lives with cats! Let’s take a closer look at seven of these fantastic felines.
ROOSEVELT: TOM QUARTZ AND SLIPPERS
Zip backward in time to the early 20th century, and you’ll find President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House with a veritable menagerie of companion animals – you should Google the whole list sometime. Roosevelt had a piebald rat, a macaw, guinea pigs, and many more pets in addition to several dogs and two cats.
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Tom Quartz was a big tomcat, who Teddy Roosevelt named after a character from the book Roughing It by Mark Twain (one of his favorite authors). Tom Quartz had full run of the presidential premises, and would often nap under Roosevelt’s desk as he worked. He even played a game of kitty tag with the Speaker of the House, though Mr. Cannon mostly ignored him.
Slippers, a polydactyl gray cat, could be found sleeping anywhere and everywhere. The White House staff were under strict orders not to interfere with the cats doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it. One amusing anecdote took place after a state dinner when Roosevelt was leading his guests from the dining room to a concert hall. As they walked, they discovered Slippers snoozing in the middle of the hall – and, instead of moving him, the President led his guests around the sleeping kitty. Teddy Roosevelt REALLY understood cats! He’s one quality example of the ultimate Cat Dad.
A couple presidents later, Woodrow Wilson arrived in the White House with a ram, sheep, chickens, songbirds, dogs – and a cat named Puffins. There isn’t much known about Puffins, apart from a rumor that the cat liked trying to jump onto the dining table. Did I say rumor? I bet all of us know this pretty much has to be true. Maybe Puffins learned to stay off the table, but kitties always try their luck at first.
KENNEDY: TOM KITTEN
In 1961, John F. Kennedy took office with a wife, two children, and a cat named Tom Kitten. Unfortunately, Kennedy was allergic to cats and so Tom Kitten’s tenure at the presidential home was short. He went to live with the First Lady’s secretary, Mary Gallagher. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline still got to visit Tom Kitten at the Gallaghers’ home, and Mary would bring Tom Kitten to work when Kennedy was away from the White House. At least Caroline and John Jr. got to play with their feline friend!
Tom Kitten grew up to be Tom Terrific, and sadly died when he was only about 18 months old. He even rated an obituary in the local newspaper:
“Unlike many humans in the same position, he never wrote his memoirs of his days in the White House, and never discussed them for quotation, though he was privy to many official secrets.”
Thanks to the Presidential Pet Museum for that clipping!
GERALD FORD: SHAN SHEIN
Three presidents later, Gerald Ford moved his family into the White House – and his daughter, Susan, brought along her miniature seal point Siamese cat named Shan Shein. An Easter gift from her parents, Shan would sleep with Susan in her bed and spend Susan’s long school days hiding under the bed in the Lincoln Memorial.
Shan had some strong preferences – she loved Susan, liked to cuddle the president occasionally and positively hated being left behind by her humans. When they went on vacations, Shan would spend days crying after them. (Worst kind of cat to cat-sit! They just break your heart.)
CARTER: MISTY MALARKY YING YANG
Yes, that is one name for one cat! Misty was the fabulous Siamese cat of President Jimmy Carter’s daughter – he lived with Amy Lynn Carter at the White House during her father’s one term in office.
Misty seems to have been one snuggly dude, keeping Amy company while she played and even during interviews. Misty would also sing along during Amy’s violin practice, and that had to be something – a caterwauling cat and novice violinist!
GEORGE W. BUSH: INDIA
So we come to the last First Cat: India, nicknamed Willie, joined President George W. Bush in the White House when he took office in 2001. India had been with the family for a decade and lived a quiet life in the presidential mansion. Her favorite place to nap was in the library, and the presidential staff even listed her favorite book (If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond) on the White House website, along with her favorite food and hobbies. While there’s one particularly hilarious photograph of India dressed up as a wizard for Halloween (she was SO MAD), she was mostly content outside of the limelight.
Now here we are, at the end of the abridged “Lives of the First Cats.” Can you believe there were so many? We always seem to think of dogs as the presidential pet, but you can plainly see this isn’t so – cats are just as presidential, and they know it!
Hit the comments with the stories you’ve heard of these First Cats!
Carl Anthony Online’s series of blogs, Cats of the White House.