Monday, September 15, 2014

Pet-loving US presidents - an excerpt

Pet-loving US presidents - an excerpt
from the website of BBC History Magazine, February 2014

Thomas Sully (American artist, 1783–1872) Andrew Jackson 1824

1. President Andrew Jackson and his foul-mouthed parrot

President Andrew Jackson (in office 1829–37) was a hard-edged war hero, renowned for fighting lethal duels and once even incapacitating his would-be assassin by battering him with a walking stick. But by the time he died in 1845, Jackson had become a quiet and deeply religious man, which is why mourners at his funeral were so surprised when his pet grey parrot, Poll, began blurting out offensive swearwords. Clearly, the bird had picked up some of Jackson’s saltier language in the ex-soldier’s heyday, and had chosen the worst possible moment to showcase it.

2. John Quincy Adams’s pet alligator

The Marquis de Lafayette wasn’t just buddies with George Washington. In 1825, after a mammoth tour of the States, he arrived at the White House clutching a variety of gifts bestowed upon him by a grateful nation. The oddest of these was a live alligator, which the aristocratic Frenchman immediately re-gifted to the current president, John Quincy Adams. We’re not sure quite how Mrs Quincy Adams reacted to this news, but the president apparently took great delight in keeping the alligator in the East Room bathtub, where he used it to prank terrified guests. 

3. George Washington and his dogs

Like many an 18th-century gentleman, George Washington was a devoted dog-lover, and kept many hunting hounds at his Mount Vernon estate, including spaniels, sheepdogs, terriers, Newfoundlands and spotted dalmations. His affection for his pet pooches can be seen in the charming names he gave them – Sweet Lips, Truelove, Tipsy, Drunkard and Madame Moose. But he wasn’t just some old fool with a heart of gold, he was also fascinated by animal husbandry. When the Marquis de Lafayette – the French hero of the American War of Independence – sent him some French foxhounds, Washington quickly realised he could breed them with English foxhounds to produce an American variety: "a superior dog, one that had speed, sense and brains."