Caroline Kennedy’s pet cat didn’t last long in the White House. Tom Kitten arrived in January 1961 but was diplomatically relieved of his duties as “First Cat” within a couple of weeks.
His discharge was not attributed to misbehavior, however. Rather, Tom Kitten’s presence made President John F. Kennedy sneeze and cause his eyes to water and swell up.
Tom Kitten, who drew his name from the classic children’s book, The Tale of Tom Kitten, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter in 1907.
When White House reporters asked Kennedy’s press secretary Pierre Salinger what was Tom’s breed, he responded: “Tom is gray with yellow eyes and of the alley variety.”
Tom Kitten was reassigned to live out his life in the home of Mary Gallagher, who was the personal secretary to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy was age 3 at the time, and she had unlimited visitation privileges at the Gallagher home.
When Gerald Ford moved into the White House in 1974, daughter Susan Ford was a high school student. Her pet Siamese cat was named Shan, who slept in Susan’s bed at night and spent her days trying to avoid Liberty, the president’s gregarious golden retriever.
One of the highlights of Shan’s career was attending Susan’s senior prom, held on Shan’s turf, the East Room of the executive mansion in 1975. It was the first and only prom staged in the White House.
Of all the pets to occupy the White House, Amy Carter’s Siamese cat probably had the strangest name – Misty Malarky Ying Yang. President Jimmy Carter served from 1977-81. Amy was 9 when the family moved into the White House.
Claire McLean, founder of the Presidential Pet Museum, said: “Misty was totally devoted to Amy, even sleeping in the girl’s dollhouse. Misty often sat in on Amy’s violin sessions, meowing.”
And the most fun fact of all, McLean said is that Misty was a boy cat.
President Bill Clinton’s daughter Chelsea was 12 when the family entered the White House in 1993. Chelsea’s pet cat was Socks, a classic black-and-white tuxedo cat.
President Clinton dubbed Socks as “Chief Executive Cat.” Socks was not happy when the Clintons acquired Buddy, a Labrador retriever in 1997.
“Socks found Buddy’s intrusion intolerable,” said First Lady Hillary Clinton. “Socks despised Buddy from first sight, instantly and forever.”
The last cat to occupy the White House was “Willie,” a solid black beauty, during the George W. Bush administration. She spent most of her time lounging in the presidential library.
In the United States, cats outrank dogs in population, according to the statisticians at worldatlas.com. In its latest pet census, there are about 93.6 million cats in America, compared to about 79.5 million dogs.
Pro-cat people include Dr. Mary Bly, a Shakespearean professor at Fordham University in New York City. She contends: “Dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you later.”
Humorist Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), who lived with 19 cats (or so), said: “If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.”
“If man could be crossed with the cat,” Twain once wrote, “it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”
Twain gave his cats distinctive names, such as Bambino, Beelzebub, Buffalo Bill, Soapy Sal and Sour Mash.