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Explained: Who is Willow, the first White House cat in over a decade?

The arrival of Willow, a two-year-old, gray-and-white-striped feline, means that the White House has a cat now after a gap of more than a decade. President George W Bush had moved in with his cat called India in 2001.

WillowWillow has been named after Willow Grove, Jill Biden’s hometown in Pennsylvania. (Twitter/Jill Biden)

The White House now has a new resident. Willow, a tabby cat, is now a part of the US presidential residence along with two dogs, both of which are German Shepherds.

Michael LaRosa, first lady Jill Biden’s spokesperson, recently announced on Twitter, “Relax, America: Willow, the White House Cat, Has Arrived She interrupted a campaign speech. Jill Biden wanted to keep her.”


Willow has been named after Willow Grove, Jill Biden’s hometown in Pennsylvania. The campaign speech mentioned by LaRosa was delivered in 2020 when the cat had jumped up on stage and interrupted Jill Biden, the Associated Press reported.

A White House cat after more than a decade

The arrival of Willow, a two-year-old, gray-and-white-striped feline, means that the White House has a cat now after a gap of more than a decade. President George W Bush had moved in with his cat called India in 2001. The animal had stayed in the White House till its death in 2009.

The decision to name the cat India had triggered a controversy and led to a protest in Kerala in 2004, with participants burning an effigy of Bush.

After being sworn in as President of the US in early 2021, Joe Biden’s two dogs, Champ (the 13-year-old died in June 2021) and Major, became the first pets to stay at the White House since the Obama administration.

Donald Trump was the first US President in over a century to not have a pet in office.

Another former President, James K Polk (1845-1849), also had no pets during his tenure, even though it is said that he learned to ride horses before he could walk, according to the Presidential Pets Museum.

Other pets at the White House

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Before Champ and Major, the White House announced the selection of Bo, a male Portuguese water dog given to the Obamas by Senator Ted Kennedy and his wife.

The Obamas in 2013 adopted another dog called Sunny, a female Portuguese water dog, who was referred to as Bo’s “little sister”. The White House described Sunny as “full of energy and very affectionate”. Bo and Sunny were present at the state Dinner hosted for the then France President Francois Hollande in 2014.

Other occupants of the White House include pet hamsters Debbie and Billie, who accompanied the family of John F. Kennedy, a canary called Robin and ponies called Macaroni and Tex.

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According to the White House Historical Association, presidential pets have been in the public eye since Theodore Roosevelt’s tenure. These animals have provided companionship and lent a “more human touch” to the President’s political image.

For instance, the White House Historical Association states that while President Herbert Hoover was considered to lack charisma and personal warmth, it was his pet, a Belgian Malinois police dog called King Tut, that “fixed” his image in the public perception.

George Washington, the first President of the US, kept at least five stallions. This included horses used during the American Revolution and one which was given to him by General Edward Braddock, the unsuccessful British commander in North America during the early stages of the French and Indian War.

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First published on: 29-01-2022 at 18:29 IST
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