President Theodore Roosevelt and his Dogs

During President McKinley’s time in office, the White House was pretty quiet. He and his wife had no children and only two pets, a parrot and a cat. When Theodore Roosevelt came to the White House, he brought a zoo with him. Snakes, a coyote, and a zebra were among the Roosevelt’s many animals. However, dogs were the family’s most cherished pets.

The Roosevelt dogs ranged in size from Rollo, the enormous St. Bernard, to Manchu, a tiny Pekingese given to the president’s daughter by the Chinese Dowager Empress.

Rollo’s size did not stop him from being a loving friend to the kids. As one newspaper noted, “No doubt visitors to the White House or Sagamore Hill [Roosevelt’s home in Long Island, New York] were often startled to see the Roosevelt children racing across the lawn, pursued by the bounding Rollo, who looked like some huge beast, ready to destroy them. But Rollo was a children’s dog, and he protected the president’s children as efficiently as the Secret Service men.”

Most of Teddy Roosevelt’s dogs were not quite as large as Rollo. Roosevelt’s son Kermit had a Manchester terrier named Jack. Jack would have enjoyed his time at the White House much more if the cat hadn’t tormented him. The cat thought jumping on Jack was great fun.

TR's dog Jack

Jack, the Roosevelt family dog at the White House, 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.

 

Though he never made friends with the cat, the rest of the family adored Jack. The president described Jack as “absolutely a member of the family.” He thought Jack was a gentleman, even though Jack sometimes chewed on the president’s books.

When Jack died, he was buried behind the White House. Roosevelt’s wife Edith refused to leave Jack there after her husband’s second term as president. She worried that Jack would be “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Jack’s little coffin was brought to the family home in Long Island, New York.

Roosevelt’s son Archie loved a dog named Skip. Skip may have been a rat terrier or a mutt. Teddy Roosevelt found the dog while he was on a bear hunt, and he probably liked Skip best. Roosevelt took pride in Skip’s courage. The dog stood his ground when facing a bear. Similarly, the president stood up to members of Congress.

President Roosevelt often took Skip on his hunting trips. When the dog’s short legs got tired, Roosevelt scooped him up and let Skip ride on his horse. On a typical evening, Skip raced down the halls of the White House with Archie. Once the kids fell asleep, Skip would find the president, who was usually reading. Skip climbed up on his master’s lap and snoozed. Skip died the year before the Roosevelt’s left the White House.

The Childhood of President Theodore Roosevelt

Official White House Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt

Official White House Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt is remembered as one of the most athletic U.S. presidents. When he was a child, Theodore’s father worried about his son’s health. From the day he was born in 1858, Theodore Roosevelt, nicknamed “Teedie” or Teddy, suffered from asthma attacks. Since Theodore’s mother Mittie was often ill, his father Theodore Roosevelt Senior walked up and down the halls of the family’s house as the boy struggled to breathe. Other times, Theodore’s father ordered a horse and carriage in the middle of the night so Theodore could get some fresh air. Theodore Roosevelt later wrote that “I could breathe, I could sleep, when he had me in his arms.”

Since Theodore and his three siblings all had health problems, their father arranged for them to have private tutoring. Their father did his best to make learning fun by creating plays for them and reading stories. Theodore liked stories about men fighting in battles and stories about animals.

When the family went on vacation at Oyster Bay in Long Island, New York, Theodore noticed birds he had never seen before. He began to study their colors and the sounds they made. Theodore’s father had a professional taxidermist teach the boy how to stuff and mount dead birds for his natural history collection. Other family member and friends were less enthusiastic about Theodore’s collection, but his father thought anything that helped his son learn about the world was worthwhile.

Since the Roosevelt children didn’t attend school, their parents included a lot of field trips and traveling in their education. Theodore’s father helped establish the American Museum of Natural History and the Children’s Aid Society for poor children. He took his children with him when he visited children’s hospitals. By the time he went to college, Theodore toured many European countries and also went to the Middle East. During the Middle East tour, he loved finding exotic animals that didn’t live in the U.S.

Theodore’s father also encouraged his son to make his body as strong as his mind. He told Theodore, “You have the mind, but…you must make your body.” After two boys picked a fight with him and he lost, Theodore realized that his father was right. A gym was set up in the family home for Theodore to practice weight lifting and gymnastics. He also took up boxing. It took a long time, but Theodore eventually became more athletic.

In college Theodore continued his exercise program and his interest in animals. When Theodore’s father died, he decided to change his major from natural history to history and government. He wanted to honor his father’s memory by doing something useful. Though not everyone in his family supported his decision, Theodore thought a career in politics would allow him to help the most people.

Further Reading:  The Theodore Roosevelt Center: http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ch. 2