White House Pets Set Theme for Christmas

By<a Href="http://abcnews.go.com/sections/wnt/worldnewstonight/compton_ann_bio.html">ann Compton</a>

Nov. 20, 2002 -- Christmas conjures up sugarplum visions, but this holiday season the White House is giving in to its animal instincts.

Laura Bush has chosen the theme of former presidential pets for her holiday decor, dubbed "All Creatures Great and Small."

"Our pets have been such a source of comfort and entertainment to us," the first lady said in announcing her plans to decorate the executive mansion with papier-mâché models that have been under secret construction since summer.

"I thought it would be fun and interesting to learn about the animals that belonged to other presidents over the years, and there are some very interesting ones," she said.

It sounds like a pretty safe theme in these traumatic times of constant terror warnings. And it's an opportunity to learn about some of the first pets who inhabited the White House on Christmases past.

It's no surprise that the current animal occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — dogs Spot and Barney and India the cat — will be featured among the decorations. And everyone knows Socks and Buddy, the cat and chocolate Labrador retriever who didn't get along in the Clinton White House.

And quite a number of more exotic pets resided in the White House over the years. John Quincy Adams had an alligator — a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette — that will be featured in papier-mâché, but there is no mention of Mrs. Adams' collection of silkworms.

In the 18th century, presidents kept war horses, and sheep to trim the White House lawn. Calvin Coolidge had to give away official gifts of a donkey and pygmy hippo. Teddy Roosevelt's brood had badgers and snakes.

White House themes in the past have always reflected home and hearth, warmth and heritage. There was a time when every ornament on the tree was an angel. One year the White House usher's children helped make needlepoint trimmings. Trees in the East Room have been dusted with artificial snow. A huge neon wreath appeared on a balcony one December during the Truman administration.

This year's menagerie seems designed to tug the holiday imagination about as far away as possible from Baghdad and Bagram. And at least the papier-mâché ornaments should have no trouble getting through the extra-sensitive White House checkpoints at the gates.

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