Pets in the Kennedy White House

The Kennedy family had a whole menagerie of animals when they lived in the White House: dogs, a cat, horses and ponies, and more! In addition to the animals the Kennedys adopted for themselves, they received some as gifts from members of the public and heads of state. The White House discouraged this practice, stating as early as March 1961 that “The pet situation at the White House is already quite congested.”

Read on to see photos and learn anecdotes about the animals who lived alongside the First Family.

Horses and Ponies

Jacqueline Kennedy was an accomplished equestrian, and was first placed on a horse by her mother when she was a year old. Mrs. Kennedy also taught her children Caroline and John Jr. how to ride, though John was allergic to horse hair- like his father.

Tex and Macaroni, two ponies stand near JFK, Mrs. Kennedy, the British Prime Minister and other guests on the White House lawn

AR7185-M. Ponies Macaroni and Tex with President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister of Great Britain, Harold Macmillan and others on White House Lawn

Horses that the Kennedy family had included Rufus, a Piebald gelding, who was stabled in Virginia and thus avoided the spotlight; not much is known about him.

Sardar, an Arabian horse, was also stabled in Virginia, but received media attention when he arrived in the United States from Pakistan in April 1962. He was a gift of President Ayub Khan of Pakistan, who gave Mrs. Kennedy the horse during her visit to the country in March 1962. The subject of how he got to the United States - via Military Air Transport Service (MATS) - caused some mild controversy. A Congressman who had recently been denied military transport for a recent trip said that Sardar had “must be a horse of unbridled influence” to get treatment he couldn’t. The horse underwent quarantine after arriving in the US, though Mrs. Kennedy had asked JFK to arrange to have him skip that process. Mrs. Kennedy later called Sardar her "favorite treasure."

The Kennedy White House would end up having three ponies, but they first started out with Macaroni. Macaroni became something of a celebrity, appearing on the cover of a September 1962 Life magazine cover with Caroline. Born in 1953 or 1954, how he came to the Kennedy family is not known-- some say he was a gift from Lyndon B. Johnson, but archivists have not found evidence of that being the case. 

But Vice President Johnson did give Caroline a pony: one named Tex. The three year old gelding was a Yucatan bay pony, brown with one black shoe, and could be seen grazing with Macaroni on the White House lawn.

Leprechaun the pony nibbles at JFK's nape as he is seated on the ground. Toni Bradlee pets Leprechaun and laughs

ST-C387-31-63. Leprechaun, nuzzles President John F. Kennedy at the Kennedy family residence, Wexford, in Atoka, Virginia. 

In the early fall of 1963, Leprechaun, a Connemara pony, was a gift from President Éamon de Valera of Ireland to John Jr. The White House had enacted a no-pets-as-gifts policy at this point, but an exception was made because the offer was made from one head of state to another. He was described as very tame, though he became known for nibbling on the President.


As children, both the president and first lady had dogs, and continued that tradition when they added Charlie, a Welsh Terrier, to their family. He was said to be President Kennedy’s favorite dog of the bunch, and the White House electrician/dog wrangler Traphes  Bryant said he also liked Shannon and Wolf. He also reported that Charlie was an avid player of fetch, which JFK found “kind of aggravating.” 

Charlie and Pushinka sit on the White House grounds. The White House is visible in the background

KN-18294. White House Dogs, "Charlie" and "Pushinka"

The President’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. gave Mrs. Kennedy a German Shepherd named Clipper. According to Traphes Bryant, he was trained by the Metropolitan police. He and Charlie would go on evening walks with the president and first lady.

Pushinka arrived at the White House as a surprise in June 1961. During a dinner in Vienna earlier that month, Mrs. Kennedy had asked Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev about the dog Strelka, who had been sent into space as part of the Soviet space program and was about to have a litter of puppies. When she gave birth, the Soviet leader sent one of her pups to the White House. JFK wrote to Khrushchev with his thanks:

Her flight from the Soviet Union to the United States was not as dramatic as the flight of her mother, nevertheless, it was a long voyage and she stood it well.

When the White House Press Office announced that Pushinka was going to have a litter of puppies, it made front page news in at least one newspaper. When the pups were born, JFK nicknamed them “pupniks.” Caroline named them Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker. Butterfly and Streaker were given away to Midwest children when they were two months old. White Tips and Blackie stayed at the Kennedy home on Cape Cod and were eventually given to friends of the family.

President Kennedy’s 1963 trip to Ireland resulted in two more pets-as-gifts: Shannon, a cocker spaniel, a gift of the Barry family, distant cousins of the president; and Wolf, an Irish wolfhound, who was a gift from a priest.

JFK feeds his dog, Wolf, on the West Wing Colonnade of the White House, Washington, D.C. John Jr. (right), stands with family dog Shannon near open door to the Oval Office; nanny to the Kennedy children, Maud Shaw (at left, in background), looks on.

ST-C363-3-63. President John F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. with Family Dogs at the White House

Traphes Bryant said in his oral history that President Kennedy got a lot of pleasure from seeing dogs as he came home from trips or took a break from work.

If the President got only a few minutes of pleasure out of the dogs each week and got his mind off the world problems for a short time, it’s worth my trouble. He would pat the dogs, like when he’d come in on the helicopter from a trip; he’d like to have the dogs out there and he would get off the helicopter and walk straight to the dogs and pat them and ask how the dogs were and then thank me before he went into the Oval Room of the White House on his way to the second floor to his quarters.

Other Animals

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jr., visit with parakeets, Bluebell and Maybelle, in John’s nursery, following a joint birthday party for the children.

ST-A28-9-62. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., with Birds

In addition to equines and canines, the Kennedy White House had other pets in residence, though for various reasons, didn't always stay at the White House for long.

A canary named Robin was buried on the grounds of the White House in 1962.

Tom Kitten was a gray cat “of undetermined age and dubious background” according to the Associated Press. JFK was also very allergic to cat hair, so the cat did not stay in the White House for long. Mrs. Kennedy’s secretary adopted him, and he lived in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mrs. Kennedy had the idea to have ducks on the White House grounds. Photographs capture them roaming around and enjoying a swim in the fountain on the South Lawn, though that would not last. Charlie the dog chased them so much they eventually had to be rehomed.

Hamsters Debbie and Billie made the news for their ability to escape their cage and get lost in the White House. In her oral history interview for the JFK Library, White House Housekeeper Anne Lincoln recounted the unfortunate fate of the hamsters:

ANNE LINCOLN: That was the spring too that Caroline’s hamster died. It disappeared.   
NANCY HOGAN: On the third floor?   
LINCOLN: On the second floor.   
HOGAN: Never to be found?   
LINCOLN: Never to be found. I – it's a very sad story. But I think the hamsters had baby hamsters and then the babies died. As I remember, the mother hamster ate the babies and I had quite a time explaining it to Caroline. We'll probably have to delete that.

Bluebell and Maybelle, a pair of parakeets, lived in the White House Nursery. After Caroline and John Jr.’s joint birthday party in 1962, they played with their feathered pets under the supervision of their mother. The birds also made the move to Georgetown when Mrs. Kennedy and the children moved out of the White House in December 1963.

Zsa Zsa, a white rabbit, came to the White House as a gift from a magician in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She could allegedly play the “first five bars of the Star Spangled Banner on a toy trumpet.” A clipping in a newspaper at the time wondered if the rabbit would get along with the hamsters.

More information

Learn more about pets and animals in the archives at the JFK Library, or contact archivists at for more information.