John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was the youngest candidate ever to be elected president, and he served from 1961-1963. November 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of his tragic assassination. Kennedy came into office with a young wife, Jacqueline, and two children, Caroline and John Jr.
The Kennedys were accustomed to having both children and animals in the household. When the family moved into the White House they brought along a gray cat named Tom Kitten, and the arrival of the next pet—a canary Caroline named Robin–made the AP wire shortly after they moved in.
The family dog, Charlie, a Welsh Terrier, stayed at the home of Mrs. Kennedy’s mother in Virginia until the family felt more settled, but Charlie was much loved by the family and a personal favorite of the President’s. Charlie loved paddling in the water when the President swam, and he considered himself pack leader when any other dogs were around.
The most memorable dog story during those years was the gift given to Caroline by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev following the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev arrived at the White House in June of 1961 with a little white dog named Pushinka—meaning “fluffy’ in Russian. Pushinka came with a passport that identified her as a “nonbreed” but specified that her mother was Strelka, the first dog sent into space by the Russians.
Pushinka was an instant hit with the family, but because of the Cold War, Pushinka was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to be examined before she was permitted to settle into her new home. Officials wanted to be certain the dog was not bugged with any hidden listening devices, microphones, bombs, or germs.
Soon after Pushinka was brought back to the White House, she also won the heart of Charlie, and eventually Pushinka and Charlie had a litter of puppies together, called “pupniks” by the President. When they were old enough to go to their own homes, the puppies all went their separate ways—two being given to the winners of an essay contest Mrs. Kennedy devised.
At Thanksgiving of 1962, Charlie and Pushinka were joined by Clipper, a German shepherd, given to Mrs. Kennedy by her father-in-law.
The Kennedys also had two ponies, Macaroni and Leprechaun. They were joined by a third pony, Tex, a gift from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Jacqueline Kennedy was an avid and skilled horsewoman and wanted her children to be comfortable with riding and caring for horses.
While Macroni, Leprechaun, and Tex were primarily stabled at Glen Ora, an estate in Virginia the Kennedys were leasing, the ponies were often brought to the White House so the children could ride them. It was not unusual for passersby to be able to stop and watch the ponies grazing on the South Lawn.
In the winter there was also the occasional sleigh ride, courtesy of Mrs. Kennedy and Macaroni. On February 14, 1962 The New York Times featured a photo of Mrs. Kennedy taking Caroline and playmates for a sleigh ride with Macaroni in harness on the South Lawn of the White House.