Even first families are pet lovers! From the earliest days of the United States government, presidents have brought furry friends along to the White House.
While many U.S. leaders have kept their pets to the traditional cat or dog, politicians dating back to the 1700s owned more exotic companions, like horses, bear cubs and parrots. As time went on, presidents’ animal friends became as revered as the candidates themselves.
Ahead of his first presidential election win in 2008, Barack Obama promised daughters Malia and Sasha that they could get a dog if his campaign came out on top. “I love you both more than you can imagine. You have earned the puppy that is coming with us!” he teased during his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park in November 2008.
The Obamas brought home Bo, a Portuguese water dog, in April 2009. Months after his second inauguration in January 2013, the former Senator and his family added Sunny to the mix. When the Obama family moved out of the White House in early 2017, the former first dogs had to get acquainted with the way everyday pets live.
“They’re just now going to the door when the doorbell rings,” Michelle Obama joked during a December 2018 talk at Barclay’s Center in New York City. “It’s taken them two years. It’s the door, people are coming!”
Barack’s successor, President Donald Trump, was the first White House occupant to not have a pet while in office since James K. Polk, the 11th U.S. president. Dog lovers rejoiced after former V.P. Joe Biden‘s projected 2020 election win because his family’s two German shepherds, Champ and Major, would be joining him in D.C.
The Pennsylvania native and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, got Champ in late 2008 and adopted Major 10 years later from the Delaware Humane Association. During an Iowa campaign event in 2019, Joe said their second puppy came along at the perfect time.
“My vet said, ‘Your shepherd’s 12 years old. He’s getting slow. The best thing to keep him going is [to] get another little puppy,'” the president-elect recalled, joking that his elder dog “thinks he’s Secret Service.”
The Bidens confirmed in June 2021 that their dog Champ died at age 13.
“Our hearts are heavy today,” the twosome wrote in a statement at the time. “Even as Champ’s strength waned in his last months, when we came into a room, he would immediately pull himself up, his tail always wagging, and nuzzle us for an ear scratch or a belly rub. Wherever we were, he wanted to be, and everything was instantly better when he was next to us.”
Scroll down to look back at some of the cutest occupants of the White House through the years.