The Roosevelt family had a plethora of pets, and not just your regular dogs and cats. The 26th First Family owned horses, kangaroo rats, a flying squirrel, and a badger, just to name a few. Some of their pets were a little smaller and more mundane though, such as the family’s family of guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs were part of the family as early as 1893. when in a letter to Robert Harry Munro Ferguson, Roosevelt remarked that “Alec Lambert has just given Ted a couple of guinea pigs, which he adores.” Ted Roosevelt often carried his guinea pigs around, sometimes in a basket. Although one mishap described by Roosevelt has Ted tripping and falling down the stairs, shooting the startled guinea pig out on his way down. During this time period, at least one of the guinea pigs lived in a cage with Peter the rabbit.
Some of the guinea pigs were named: Admiral Dewey (a white guinea pig), Dr. Johnson, Bob Evans, Bishop Doan, and Father O’Grady. Dr. Johnson was named for Roosevelt’s “Dutch reformed pastor” and Father O’Grady was named for a local priest that the children were acquainted with. Kermit Roosevelt sometimes took the guinea pigs outdoors to play on the lawn, a sight Roosevelt greatly enjoyed.
Roosevelt enjoyed animals, and that included the guinea pigs. When his daughter Ethel was away, he even took charge of her 2 guinea pigs, telling a friend that his daughter felt that the guinea pigs would “not be safe in the room with me.” All of the children loved their guinea pigs, and sometimes the boys would even carry them in the waistbands of their trousers, where the shirt was tucked.
There was a time when Edith Roosevelt was a bit embarrassed by the family’s guinea pigs though – she had just entered the drawing room for a White House party when she smelled a foul odor. Investigation yielded the answer: the cages of the guinea pigs had not been cleaned in some time. Perhaps because the animals were so rarely caged that no one thought of it?
The guinea pigs made perfect pets for the children. “Their highly unemotional nature fits them for companionship with adoring but over-enthusiastic young masters and mistresses,” Roosevelt remarked in his autobiography.