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Kansas State University

This Vet's an Expert on First Pets

 

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From the January 21, 2001 issue of the Kansas City Star

Ronnie Elmore

Ronnie G. Elmore knows about animals.  That's because he's a veterinarian and associate dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.  But Dr. Elmore also knows about presidents and their pets.

You might even call him an expert on "First Pets."   Dr. Elmore believes that animals owned by our presidents have changed our history, helped presidents win friends for our country and even win elections.

StarBrite:  What kinds of pets have our presidents had?

Dr. Elmore:  Almost every kind of animal has lived at the White House.  For example, while John Quincy Adams was president, Marquis de Lafayette, who toured America in 1825, brought along his alligator, which resided in the East Room for several months.

Theodore Roosevelt's family had many strange pets, including a small bear, a lizard, guinea pigs, a badger, a macaw, a hyena, a rabbit, snakes, and dogs, cats and ponies.  One of the ponies, Algonquin, became famous for riding in the White House elevator.

StarBrite:  I've heard that some First Pets have been naughty.  Who was Pete, for example, and what did he do that was so bad?

Dr. Elmore:  Pete was a Boston bull terrier owned by Teddy Roosevelt family.  Pete often bit visitors to the White House and once he even tore the pants off the French ambassador, Jules Jusserand.  It was quite a scandal back in the early 1900s.

StarBrite:  Who were other memorable presidential pets?

Dr. Elmore: Fala, Franklin Roosevelt's black Scottie, was popular during the 1940s and went everywhere with the president.   Roosevelt talked about Fala in a famous speech in 1944.  Millie, George Bush's dog, wrote her own book about living in the White House.  My favorite presidential dog was Warren G. Harding's Airedale, Laddie Boy.  Laddie Boy often gave interviews to newspaper reporters during 1921 to 1923.

StarBrite:  Some First Pets have had common names while others have had unusual names.  What were some of the unusual names?

Dr. Elmore:  Alice, Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, had a green garter snake named "Emily Spinach" because it was green like spinach and as thin as Aunt Emily.  Rumors about Emily Spinach became so ridiculous that some people thought Alice had a giant boa constrictor living at the White House!

StarBrite:  Wait!  I heard there's something interesting about George W. Bush's dog, Spot.

Dr. Elmore:  Spot is the daughter of Millie, former President George Bush's dog, so we will not only have the son of a former president but also the daughter of a former first dog moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave!

-Teresa Dowlatshahi
Special to The Star