The President’s Pets

By Katie Needham

President Lincoln and his sons shared a love of animals and enjoyed the company of various pets during  their time in Washington, DC.  An array of animals, including dogs, cats, goats, rabbits, horses, and even peacocks, lived at the White House and President Lincoln’s Cottage, providing amusement and contentment to President Lincoln, Willie, and Tad. 

Courtesy of the Henry Horner Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Even before moving from Springfield to Washington, the Lincolns had pets.  Most notable, beside Lincoln’s horse Bob, was the family’s dog, Fido, who posed for a photograph in 1860 prior to the Lincolns’ move to the White House.  Because Lincoln knew that Fido disliked loud noises and crowds, he arranged for family friends to care for Fido while he was in Washington.  Lincoln went so far as to give the family a horsehair sofa, so that the dog would be more comfortable. [i] 

It wasn’t long after the Lincolns settled into the White House that new animals joined the family.  In August of 1861, Secretary of State William H. Seward gave the family two kittens.  Maunsell Field, who served as the Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury during Lincoln’s presidency, recalled that “[Mr. Lincoln] was fond of dumb animals, especially cats.”[ii]  One of several cats that lived at the White House was named Tabby.  Apparently, President Lincoln used to feed the cat at the table, using the presidential silverware.  When Mrs. Lincoln asked her husband if he really thought that was in good taste, President Lincoln responded, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”[iii] 

President Lincoln also got a dog in Washington to keep him company, named Jip.  Rebecca Pomroy, the army nurse who tended to both Mary and Tad in 1862 following Willie’s death, noted that Jip “was instrumental in relieving his master of some portion of the burden, for the little fellow was never absent from the Presidential lunch.  He was always in Mr. Lincoln’s lap to claim his portion first, and was caressed and petted by him through the whole meal.”[iv]  

Many of the Lincolns’ pets spent time at President Lincoln’s Cottage, moving to the Old Solders’ Home with the Lincolns.  Tad had a pony, two goats, and several peacocks that often resided at the Cottage.  When Tad was away, traveling with Mrs. Lincoln, he worried about his animals, prompting responses from his father about their condition.  In April of 1864, President Lincoln telegraphed Mrs. Lincoln: “The draft will go to you. Tell Tad the goats and father are very well—especially the goats. A. LINCOLN.”[v]  Later that same year, he wrote, “All well, including Tad’s pony and the goats. Mrs. Col. Dimmick died night before last. Bob left Sunday afternoon. Said he did not know whether he should see you. A. LINCOLN.”[vi]

Today, there are no pets at President Lincoln’s Cottage, however there is plenty of wildlife to fill the void.  Squirrels, birds, raccoons, and even deer often roam the grounds around the Cottage, reminding visitors of the rural setting the Lincolns’ enjoyed during their time at President Lincoln’s Cottage. 

Ms. Needham is the Office Coordinator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

[i] Rowan, Roy and Brooke Janis.  First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Best Friends.  Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009.  p43-48.  Photo of Fido courtesy of the John E. Roll/The Frank & Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, published in “Presidents and Their Dogs.” Time Photos, 2010.,29307,1830236_1746622,00.html.

[ii] Field, Maunsell B.  Personal Recollections: Memories of Many Men and of Some Women.  New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1875.  p213.

[iii] “Abraham Lincoln, Pets and Children.”  The Lincoln Institute’s Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom.

[iv] Boyden, Anna L.  War Reminiscences or Echoes from Hospital and White House.  Boston: D. Lothrop & Company, 1887.  p82.

[v] Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. VII, 1809-1865.

[vi] Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. VII, 1809-1865.  Mrs. Dimick was the wife of Colonel Justin Dimick, appointed governor of the Soldiers’ Home in January 1864.


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