When Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency upon McKinley’s assassination in September of 1901, he brought not only his wife and five children but soon enough accumulated a breadth of other beings which constituted a bona fide White House zoo.
Along with five guinea pigs. one lizard, one badger, two snakes, one pony, one parrot, one one-legged rooster, a rabbit, an owl,a white rat, gerbils
Over the course of their nearly eight years in the White House, the Theodore Roosevelt family had at least five known dogs, including a Pekingese named Manchu, Jack the rat terrier, a retriever named Sailor Boy, a mixed-breed who went by Skip, and a bull terrier known as Pete. So closely associated did the President become with his apparently favorite type of dog, there is even now a breed named for him, the so-called Teddy Roosevelt Terrier.
The man that First Lady Edith Roosevelt referred to as “my fifth son” was clearly fascinated by every type of living creature who he declared were members of his family. In fact, he had trouble naming just one whose company he most preferred:
“Jonathan, the piebald rat, of most friend and affectionate nature, crawls all over everybody, ad the flying squirrel, and two kangaroo rats; not to speak of Archie’s pony, Algonquin, who is the most absolute pet of all.”
Yet it was Roosevelt’s two highly personable cats which seemed to have left the most distinct impression.
There are numerous images of the President and his children with the various animals they shared their lives with, but none known of the unusually large and mixed-breed “tomcat” known as Tom Quartz. His unusual name derived from the Mark Twain novel Roughing It but there was no sparing the privileges of this feline in the White House, given free range to roam not only the residential mansion but the newly-constructed West Wing as well.
Unlike those Presidents who often made dogs their companions in the Oval Office, President Theodore Roosevelt made Tom Quartz his working pal. The cat would catch up with the Chief Executive at some point in the day, making his regular nap spot beneath the presidential desk, his pillow the presidential shoes.
When Roosevelt arose, Tom Quartz often sprinted out from under the desk and sprang up on top of the desk, demanding attention with unearthly howling.
When the President returned to the family quarters, Tom Quartz had a habit of finding himself stuck in closets or behind furniture and again howled to be found and retrieved. Roosevelt obliged, although another persistent presidential myth claiming that Tom Quartz was once rescued by Roosevelt when stuck out on the second-floor balcony is laughably false since there was no such balcony at that time.
Apparently unable to distinguish between Roosevelt’s place of work and rest, when the President held a meeting in the family quarters instead of the Oval Office one night with Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon, Tom Quartz assumed it was playtime, like the West Wing.
When the meeting ended, the President escorted the House Speaker to the second floor vestibule of the grand staircase. The President delighted in reporting to his son Kermit, away at school, what happened next:
“He [Cannon] had gone about halfway down when Tom Quartz strolled by, his tail erect and very fluffy. He spied Mr. Cannon going down the stairs, jumped to the conclusion he was a playmate escaping, and raced after him, suddenly grasping him by the leg the way he does Archie and Quentin when they play hide and seek with him; then loosening his hold he tore downstairs ahead of Mr. Cannon, who eyed him with iron calm and not one particle of surprise.”
Equally spoiled but more beloved was the grey cat known as Slippers, famous for having a right front paw with six fingers.
If Tom Quartz ruled the West Wing, Slippers marked (not literally, apparently) both floors of the White House as his domain, snoozing any time and any place, with reports of him being found asleep on the long Lincoln bed on the second floor to the oval Blue Room on the first floor.
Slippers is also the only White House cat to hang out at state dinners.
They began the formal procession down the long red-carpeted Cross Hall towards the East Room at the other end, for an after-dinner concert.
The moment the doors of the State Dining Room were opened, the President spotted a breathing grey blob directly in the path ahead.
It was a snoozing Slippers.
By Roosevelt’s orders, the household staff never pushed, shoved, carried or in any other way moved the cats from wherever they wanted to be, whenever they wanted to be there.
And so, instead of gently waking Slippers up, President Roosevelt glided his formal march down the hall in an elliptical direction around the cat, as did all the officials and diplomats in his wake.
Theodore Roosevelt had rather extreme ideas on what was “right” and what was not, often designating activities as those best suited for each gender. Tennis, for example, he declared to be the ideal male sport while declaring that seemingly official presidential sport of golf to be for “sissies.”
Unlike those who thought of Dogs as the proper sort of pet for a male and a Cat as the correct one for a female, however, Theodore Roosevelt found an affinity with every type of species.
Although famous for his love of bloody big game hunting and hanging the heads of moose and buffalo he shot on the walls of the State Dining Room, towards the end of his life he openly questioned the morality of doing so.
Yes indeed, Teddy was often a bear of a man, but many also realized that underneath it all, he cold be a pussycat.
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