My fellow Americans, meet your new First Cat: Willow, a gray-and-white tabby the Biden family has adopted for the White House and made the first presidential cat after George W. Bush’s India.
Willow, who settled into her new home in Washington, D.C., in late January, captured future First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s heart on the campaign trail in 2020 on a farm in Western Pennsylvania, where she and future President Joe Biden stopped for a speech. The cat jumped up on the stage and interrupted Dr. Biden while she was speaking. Seeing their immediate bond, the farm’s owner knew the kitty belonged with the Bidens. The First Lady’s hometown is Willow Grove, Pennsylvania — hence, her cat’s namesake.
As we all know, cats are Internet entertainers. Hilarious political memes showing First Cat Willow with cattitude and snark will probably start appearing on social media.
“Cats really are made for the Internet age,” says Andrew Hager, Historian-in-Residence at the Presidential Pet Museum (presidentialpetmuseum.com), which is temporarily online while leaders search for a new physical location. “There’s just something about cats that takes that online presence to the next level in a way that dogs aren’t able to do.”
Presidential Cat People
Willow’s arrival has been a long time coming, since the Bidens announced their intention to get a cat after Joe Biden won the election in November 2020. Since then, reporters have often asked about the status of the cat, and the White House teased that the cat’s arrival was coming soon.
While one of the Biden’s dogs, Major, underwent training to get used to cats, Willow stayed at a foster home. The German Shepherd, sadly, had to be re-homed last year because of a biting problem that led experts to recommend a quieter environment with family friends. Earlier, Champ, another Biden German Shepherd, died. However, Willow will join one canine brother at the White House: Commander, another young German Shepherd.
President Biden “seems like the kind of guy who would want to go play fetch,” says Andrew, a self-proclaimed cat person. “I can definitely see Dr. Biden being more of a cat person.”
Cat vs. Dog Popularity
There have been 46 presidents, with dog lover Grover Cleveland serving as the 22nd and 24th. Most of America’s presidents have had pets and, by far, the most common pet has been dogs; only about 12 cats have lived at the White House, Andrew says.
He wrote the book All-American Dogs: A History of Presidential Pets from Every Era, which Dey Street Books will release in August. Dogs are probably more popular presidential pets because they are easier to pose for photo ops, Andrew says. Except for Socks Clinton, who made a friendly appearance in a photo from the press-briefing room, one really can’t picture presidential cats posing and mingling with White House guests. Both Bush’s India and Misty Malarky Ying Yang — the Siamese cat belonging to President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy — tended to stay out of sight.
Surely, the soothing purr of a cat will help the Bidens cope with the pressure of the presidency, Andrew says.
“The White House is a stressful place for people and also for animals,” he adds.
There is a lot we still don’t know about Willow at press time, and White House officials did not respond to requests for an interview. But just knowing there is a First Feline living in the nation’s capital makes our cat-loving hearts go, “Meow!”