What Really Happens When A Presidential Pet Dies

In the 232 years that the United States of America has been governed by presidents, a not insignificant number of those presidents have had pets. Some of those pets, such as Bill Clinton’s cat, Socks, or Joe Biden’s dogs, Champ and Major, came with their owner to the White House. Others, such as Barack Obama’s dog Bo, were adopted while their owners were serving as POTUS.

Unfortunately, all living things eventually die, and presidents must sometimes, like the rest of us, mourn and lay to rest a beloved pet. Often, those pets die after their owner has left office; for example, the Obama family’s Bo died in May 2021 at the age of 13, well over four years after his owner had left office. In other cases, the pets die while living in the White House, as was the case with George W. Bush’s dog Spotty, who died in 2004 while her owner was still serving as president (via the National Geographic Kids).

There is no set procedure for dealing with the death of a presidential pet

Though the office of the president is one of dignity, decorum, and ceremony, there is no established precedent for how the White House handles the death of a president’s pet. In the absence of, say, an order to lower flags to half-staff or a similar ceremonial acknowledgment, each presidential family has handled the death of their pets in their own way.

Recently, the deaths of presidential pets have been met with quiet press releases announcing the animal’s death. For example, when the Obama family’s dog, Bo, died in May 2021, the family released a brief statement, as CNN reported. Similarly, when the Clinton family cat, Socks, died in 2009, the family announced his death via a press release, as People reported.

In at least one case, a presidential pet’s memory has been preserved with a more permanent memorial. As Presidential Pet Museum reported, the Millie Bush Bark Park in Houston was named in honor of the George H. W. Bush family’s beloved springer spaniel.

There are currently only three (or four) living presidential pets

At times throughout presidential history, there have been moments where multiple pets of current and former presidents were still living. For example, for a time in 2013, the Obama family had two living dogs while they occupied the White House, while at the same time his predecessor, George W. Bush, had two living dogs.

At present, however, there are only three (or four, depending on how you define “pet”) living presidential pets. As Vanity Fair reported, both of Joe Biden’s dogs, Champ and Major, were family pets before their owner was elected, and as of May 17, 2021, both animals are still living. However, President Donald Trump did not have any pets. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, lost Bo in 2021, but his other White House dog, Sunny, still lives. All of the pets belonging to Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, have died, with the possible exception of a cow, Ofelia, who as recently as 2013, lived on the family ranch in Texas, according to the Presidential Pet Museum. However, it is unclear whether or not Ofelia is still living, and whether or not a cow counts as a pet we will leave to the reader.

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