Theodore Roosevelt and his family had a veritable zoo of pets parade in and out of their lives before, during, and after their time in the White House. While some pets were traditional – dogs, cats, guinea pigs – others were a bit more exotic. One such pet was an unnamed cougar that was gifted to Roosevelt.
The wild cat is very rarely mentioned in historical documents, perhaps because he spent no actual time with the family. In late 1903, Theodore Roosevelt received a wild cat native to Georgia as a gift from a man named S.J. Nease. Rightfully determining that an undomesticated wild animal was not the right fit for his family, Roosevelt immediately handed the wild cat over to the National Zoological Garden (now the Smithsonian National Zoo.) He thanked Mr. Nease sincerely for the gift, adding that he had sent the animal on to the zoo where “it can be properly cared for and much appreciated.”
Ironically, while a great lover of pets, Roosevelt was also known to be an excellent hunter. Cougars and other wild cats were not immune to his rifle, so it is unclear why Mr. Nease chose this particular animal as a gift.