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Pets Are Popular With U.S. Presidents



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
--Visual Arts
Social Studies
--Current Events
----U.S. History


Grades 2-up

News Content

The Obamas choice for a new dog will continue a long history of White House pets.

Anticipation Guide

Invite students to make a list of the pets their families have. Determine by a show a hands the most common pet among your students.

If your students pay attention to the news, you might invite them to tell you what they know about President-elect Obamas search for a White House pet for his children, Malia and Sasha. Write on a board or chart the facts they know.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: popular, issue, record [a written history], wallaby, and pygmy hippopotamus. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • The _____ is native to West Africas forests and swamps. (pygmy hippopotamus)
  • The accountant had to check his _____ of paid bills to determine if money was still owed. (record)
  • The most _____ breed of dog in the United States is the Labrador retriever. (popular)
  • Most voters say the economy is the major _____ that will face our new president. (issue)
  • A young _____ is called a joey." (wallaby)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Pets Are Popular With U.S. Presidents.

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

    Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

    Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

    Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

    Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • President-elect Obama says his family's first dog will need to be hypoallergenic, since his daughter Malia is allergic. Among the dogs that might be good candidates for the First Pet (because they typically do not shed) are a poodle, Bichon fries, Maltese, or Schnauzer. Another possible breed, the Goldendoodle, is a mix of Golden retriever and poodle.
  • In August, more than 42,000 Americans cast their vote in an American Kennel Club (AKC) poll to determine the right breed of dog for the Obamas. The poodle was chosen from a list of five hypoallergenic breeds.
  • It seems that Vice President Joe Biden made a deal similar to the one the Obama family had. "If you get the vice presidency and get elected, you can get a dog," Biden said his wife told him.
  • President Calvin Coolidge had a pygmy hippopotamus named Billy. The hippo, a gift from tire company owner Harvey Firestone, was 6 feet long and weighed 600 pounds. Coolidge donated Billy to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, where the hippo bred 23 baby hippos. Many hippos in U.S. zoos today are offspring of Billy.
  • Coolidge was also known to walk his leash-trained raccoons on the White House lawn.
  • Herbert Hoovers son, Allan, had two pet alligators. But those were not the first pet alligators in the White House. John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, also had a pet gator. It lived in a bathroom in the East Room of the White House.
  • One presidential pooch, President George H.W. Bushs Springer spaniel named Millie, became a published author. Millie's Book, written by First Lady Barbara Bush and Millie, describes a day in the life of the president. Millie became an even bigger hit when her six puppies were born in the White House in 1989. One of Millies sons, Spot, would return to the White House when George W. Bush became president.
  • President Martin Van Buren received two tiger cubs as a gift from the Sultan of Oman. The two cats were gifted to a zoo.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt received a black bear cub named Jonathan Edwards as a gift from supporters in West Virginia. Many kids today have Teddy bears," which are named for Teddy" Roosevelt. TR also had a pet badger.
  • Even our first president had pets. George Washington had many horses and dogs. His wife, Martha, kept a parrot.
  • The people of Peru, a South American nation, have suggested a dog for the Obama family. Theyd like the family to own their national dog, a Peruvian Hairless. The breed is bald and often toothless. It was popular with Incan kings thousands of years ago. The dogs have above-average body temperature, which compensates for their lack of hair.

    Comprehension Check

    Recalling Detail
    Ask these questions after students read this weeks News for You article:

  • How many of our 44 presidents have had pets in the White House? (Records indicate that 42 of the 44 presidents [all but two of them] have had pets.)
  • What pets do the Bushs have in the White House today? (two dogs and a cat)
  • Which president probably had the most pets? (President Calvin Coolidge)
  • What unusual pet did President Hoovers son have? (two pet alligators.)
  • What was Caroline Kennedys pony named? (Macaroni)
  • What type of pet was President Tafts Pauline? (a cow)
  • Why did President Wilson keep pet sheep? (in order to save money by using them to trim the grass on the White House lawn)

    Follow-Up Activities

    Critical thinking language arts, art. Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. Challenge students to do some research about the best dogs for people with allergies. The following resources will provide excellent information:

  • Dogs and Allergies (American Kennel Club)
  • Dogs for Allergy Sufferers (Dog Breed Info Center)
  • Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds (Wikipedia)
    After students complete their research, ask them to decide their choice for a new White House dog. Invite them to create campaign posters that will encourage others to vote for their choice. They might give brief campaign speeches too. Then hold an election" so students can vote for the dog the class would recommend to the Obamas.

    History and math timeline. Create a timeline that will cover the history of pets in the White House from the time of George Washington until today. Of course the spot for the Obama pet will be left blank until it is revealed (probably in January, shortly before or after they move into the White House). The resources below include information about all our presidents pets and some great photos too.

  • Presidential Pet Museum
  • Presidential Pets
  • List of United States Presidential Pets
    There are few pet images for presidents who served in the 1700s and 1800s. In those cases, students might search Google Images to find a generic picture to represent the pet.

    Reading comprehension. Invite students to use the Dogs and the Presidents of the United States resource to learn about the different dog breeds that have lived in the White House with presidential families. Challenge students to use that resource to match each presidents name below to the breed of dog his family had.

    1. Grover Cleveland a. Beagle
    2. Theodore Roosevelt b. Bull terrier
    3. Calvin Coolidge c. Golden retriever
    4. Herbert Hoover d. Great Dane
    5. Franklin D. Roosevelt e. Japanese poodle
    6. Dwight D. Eisenhower    f. Labrador retriever
    7. John F. Kennedy g. Shetland sheepdog
    8. Lyndon B. Johnson h. Weimaraner
    9. Gerald Ford i. Welsh terrier
    10. Bill Clinton j. Wolfhound
    ANSWERS: 1.e, 2.b, 3.g, 4.j, 5.d, 6.h, 7.i, 8.a, 9.c, 10.f.

    Students might read more about presidential pets in these books:
  • Presidents and Their Pets
  • First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Best Friends


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    FINE ARTS: Visual Arts
    GRADES K - 4
    NA-VA.K-4.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NA-VA.5-8.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NA-VA.9-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-USH.K-4.1 Living and Working together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago
    GRADES 5 - 12
    NSS-USH.5-12.3 Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s) Present

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2008 Education World