Let your imagination listen to the great historical menagerie of presidential pets and you’ll hear the sounds of their feathered friends, like Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbirds, or Calvin Coolidge’s canaries and maybe his pet goose – OR parrots? George and Martha Washington had more than one. When President James Madison and his wife moved into the White House in 1809, so did Dolley Madison’s green and yellow macaw parrot.
Dolley was known for her fashionable turbans and often, for Polly, the big bright, squawk-ative bird on her shoulder, helping to greet her guests. And how thrilling, when high-spirited Polly swooped about the high-ceilinged rooms and dive-bombed the company! Later, she was part of the scary, War of 1812 drama, when, in 1814, red-coated British soldiers torched the White House. But at least Dolley made sure they didn’t get their hands on the precious painting of President Washington, or her precious Polly.
Just months later, General Andrew Jackson led a rough, frontier army down the Mississippi River to drive the British out of New Orleans. Victorious Andy Jackson, national hero, ended up being President, from 1829 to 1837. That old soldier knew a lot of salty language and so his pet parrot, Poll. We know this because in 1845, he attended ex-President Jackson’s funeral – at least until a shocked human carried poor Poll out of the room. Too much sad excitement had set him to squawking curse words!
At the end of the 1800s, President William McKinley amused himself by teaching his yellow-headed Mexican parrot how to whistle “Yankee Doodle.” After Mr. McKinley died of an assassin’s bullet, in 1901, former Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took office. He and First Lady Edith Roosevelt and their six children had LOTS of pets, including a big, beautiful parrot named Eli Yale. Eli was a deep blue hyacinth macaw.
There would be other presidential parrots. After all, the big worldwide parrot family has 350 species. Parakeets, for instance: John F. Kennedy’s little girl had two of them. Lyndon B. Johnson’s family kept lovebirds, little candy-colored parrots. But more than a century has passed since a big, big-beaked macaw like Polly or Poll has lived in the White House. Deep blue Eli Yale was the last - so far.
Andrew Jackson owned an African grey parrot. Wikimedia
Cockatiels, cockatoos, and large flightless kakapos are just a few of the many kinds of parrots. One of the biggest is the gentle, South American hyacinth macaw – from head to tail, more than three feet long! Wikimedia
Teddy Roosevelt with Eli Yale. Wikimedia
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Polly Wants a President." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank,
13 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Percy the coal black cat is a born wanderer. The former barn cat sleeps by the woodstove in winter. But in summer, he leaves after breakfast and stays out all night. For years, his owners, Anne and Yale Michael, never knew where he went. Then a friend called to tell them that Percy had made the front page of the local newspaper.
The Michaels live in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom, a pretty seaside town on the Atlantic coast. Tourists flock there in summer to go to the beach and ride the miniature train that runs along it. According to the newspaper, their Percy was also riding the rails!
“We were shocked,” Yale says. “I wondered if it was really our cat.” Because the frisky feline was always losing his collar and tags, no one knew who owned Percy or where he lived. But after their friend recognized him in that front-page newspaper article, radio and television stories followed. Percy became famous.
The train station is half a mile (0.8 km) from the Michaels’ home. To get there, Percy has to walk down the alley beside their house and cross the neighbor’s yard and a golf club parking lot (where he occasionally stops for meaty handouts). Finally, he trots over to the sea cliff and through some woods down to the railway. Once Percy arrives at the train station, he dozes on a mat the railway workers have laid out for him until he hears the train whistle. Then, every day, he boards the train, takes a seat, and rides to the Sea Life Centre. Perhaps the smell of fish drew him there originally. But that isn’t why he visits now. The curious cat behaves like any human tourist and visits the marine sanctuary to view the exhibits. The penguins are his favorite. Percy might watch them strut about for half an hour, before he strolls into the office where aquarium workers have been welcoming him for years. When it’s time to leave, the furry penguin watcher hops back on the train for the trip home.
The Michaels rode the tourist train once. “He got off, as we got on,” says Yale. “We said, ‘Hi, Percy.’“ He turned around and came to us.” But only in greeting. Then their popular, wandering pet continued on his independent way. Now that they know about his daytime adventures, they’re waiting to hear what he does at night. Perhaps a local disco?
Percy enjoying the penguins at the Sea Center.
Percy’s choice of transit: The North Bay Railroad running from Scarborough to the Sea Life Centre.
Aline Alexander Newman is a lifelong animal lover who has written more than 50 magazine stories about animals from dogs to cheetahs to dolphins. Her love of cats is reflected in her recently published Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kittens.
MLA 8 Citation
Newman, Aline Alexander. "Percy the Cat." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 13 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Percy-the-cat.
You know that presidential humans have lived in the White House since 1800, but so have MANY presidential pets, especially dogs. From those owned by John and Abigail Adams to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottie, Fala, to Bo and Sunny, the Portuguese Water Spaniels who live with President Obama’s family, there have been lots of presidential pooches. President Clinton’s daughter Chelsea had Socks, the cat, but really, there haven’t been so very many kitty cats in the White House. So how about other kinds of pets?
Well, John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline had Macaroni, the pony. Willie and Tad Lincoln loved to hitch up their pet goats Nanny and Nanko to a cart or even kitchen chairs and go banging and bumping through the White House! Thomas Jefferson had pet mockingbirds. James and Dolley Madison kept a parrot. So did Andrew Jackson, but his cussed and swore horribly! President Taft’s pet cow Pauline and Old Ike, one of Woodrow Wilson’s sheep, used to graze on the White House lawn. Among Calvin Coolidge’s many pets were Rebecca, the raccoon, and a donkey named Enoch.
When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, things really got lively, inside and outside the White House. He and his wife had six children and boy oh boy, did they have pets! Besides plenty of horses, dogs, and a couple of cats, there was a lizard, a pig, a rabbit, a rat, one small bear, five guinea pigs, a macaw, an owl, a one-legged rooster, and Josiah, the badger. Beautiful bratty Alice, the oldest daughter, loved startling people by taking Emily Spinach out of her handbag. (Emily was a green snake, named after a skinny aunt.)
One day, Archie Roosevelt, one of Alice’s little brothers, was sick upstairs. Two of her other brothers, Quentin and Kermit, got their Shetland pony Algonquin into the White House elevator and up they went to visit Archie. As his dad, President Roosevelt would say, Archie was “deee-lighted!” Visiting pets didn’t go over quite so well when little Quentin interrupted an Oval Office meeting and accidentally dropped the four snakes he brought to show his dad!
Oh yes, it can be difficult being the president. Long, long ago, President Harry Truman said that, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Remember that, if you ever get elected. And when you move to the White House, don’t forget to bring your pet!
One of Cheryl Harness's best known picture books is her fantastical, factual Ghosts of the White House. "Do I really believe that dead presidents spook around the White House, talking about when they lived there? NO! But I'm not above using FANTASY to explain HISTORY! Each president represents a chapter in the story of our country!"
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "White House Friends with Fur and Feathers." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 18 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/white-house-friends-with-fur-and-feathers.