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The First Pet Position in the Trump White House Will Remain Open—for Meow

Animals have served as companions and ambassadors for presidents dating back to George Washington

First Pet Socks poses in the White House Press Room in 1993. (U.S. National Archives)
smithsonian.com

Among the spate of recent headlines discussing the many vacancies in the current presidential administration, one position appears like it won't be filled anytime soon—the first pet.

“The first family is still getting settled so there are no plans at this time," Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump, told Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press on Monday.

If President Donald Trump's family forgoes having a pet in the White House, they would break a long history of presidential animal ownership, reports Lucey. In fact, that history dates back to George Washington himself, according to the Presidential Pet Museum. While Washington's term ended before the federal government moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in 1800, the first POTUS owned a number of horses, an array of hounds, and even parrots (in addition to Martha Washington's parrot, his step-granddaughter Nelly had a green parrot). Washington was also the first president to receive pets as gifts, writes Margaret Truman in her book on presidential pets, noting, "[a]dmirers sent him some fine hunting dogs, from the king of Spain came a champion jack that he kept in Mount Vernon for many years."

The tradition has continued on through the centuries, with pets ranging from cows to provide the First Family with milk and butter, to the alligators owned by President Herbert Hoover's second son Allan that often escaped their bathtub enclosure.

In a job that puts a person in constant scrutiny, a pet can often fill the role of comforter-in-chief to the president and his family. Harry Truman, who was gifted with a cocker spaniel named Feller, has often been quoted as saying "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog," though the Presidential Pet Museum casts doubt on the attribution, noting that Truman claimed to hate Feller and ultimately gave him away to his personal physician.

First pets can also take a more active role in connecting with their owners' constituents. President Warren Harding created 1,000 bronze miniatures of his famous dog Laddie Boy to send to political supporters, and even curated a cult of personality around the dog by writing letters to newspapers posing as Laddie Boy.

Laddie Boy wasn't the only first dog to take up writing; Millie, the English springer spaniel, "co-wrote" a book with Barbara Bush that reached the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list in 1992. The Clinton family's first pets, Socks and Buddy, starred in their own 1998 book that compiled letters written to them by young fans from across America.

The celebrity of first pets hasn't been confined to the printed word, either, reports Lucey. With the White House closed tours after the 9/11 attacks, staffers for President George W. Bush created a web show about First Dog Barney, the Scottish terrier, to great acclaim.

The most recent first pets, Obama family dogs Bo and Sunny, have been even satirized on late night talk shows and the pair of Portuguese water dogs left their posts with high popularity, despite Bo's occasional tendency to steal the spotlight.

While the position for first pet remains empty for now, the family of Trump's second-in-command has not followed their example, reports Martha Ross of the Mercury News. Last month, Vice President Mike Pence adopted a puppy named Harley, while his wife and daughter picked out a kitten named Hazel. They joined the Pence's two other pets, a cat named Pickle and a rabbit named Marlon Bundo.

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