A cat is said to be joining the Bidens in the White House

Pets can help humanise presidents as well as soften their image. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - When he was running for president, Mr Joe Biden said it was time for a pet to be put back in the White House.

First, it was announced that Champ and Major, the German shepherds belonging to the president-elect and future first lady Jill Biden, would roam the White House. And now, after an absence of more than a decade, a cat is set to also join the ranks of presidential pets, CBS Sunday Morning's Jane Pauley reported on Twitter last Friday (Nov 27).

In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Mrs Jill Biden hinted that if her husband won the presidency, she would not mind getting a cat.

"I'd love to get a cat," she said. "I love having animals around the house."

The cat's breed and name were not immediately available. Representatives for Mr Biden did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

The Bidens will be restoring a tradition of presidential pets when they move into the White House in January, as President Donald Trump opted not to have a pet during his term. But the Bidens' cat would not be the first in the White House.

President Abraham Lincoln's secretary-of-state William Seward gave him two cats, Tabby and Dixie, said Mr Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence at the Presidential Pet Museum. President Lincoln was a major "cat fan", Mr Hager said, and the president often fed Tabby from the dinner table despite his wife's criticism.

"At one point, he told a friend that Dixie was 'smarter than his entire Cabinet' and 'didn't talk back, which was a bonus'," Mr Hager said.

Other presidential cats include Tom Kitten, who belonged to Mrs Caroline Kennedy; Shan Shein, the siamese cat of President Gerald Ford's daughter, Susan; and Misty Malarky Ying Yang, who belonged to President Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy.

Probably one of the most popular cats in the White House was Socks in the Clinton White House.

The black and white cat was the protagonist of an unreleased Super Nintendo game, "Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill", and often gained attention from the news media, as he was the only White House pet until the Clintons adopted a chocolate Lab named Buddy in 1997.

Ms Jennifer Pickens, a White House historian and author of "Pets at the White House: 50 Years of Presidents and Their Pets", said the emergence of the Internet had added to Socks' popularity as a cartoon version of the cat greeted visitors at the White House for Kids website.

The last cat to live in the White House, India (who also had the nickname Willie), belonged to President George W. Bush. Her time at the White House was often overshadowed by the Bush family's two Scottish terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley, Mr Hager said.

Protesters in Kerala, India, burned an effigy of president Bush in July 2004 in protest of the cat's name, citing it as an insult to their country, Mr Hager said. (According to White House archives, the black shorthair cat was named after the former Texas Rangers baseball player Ruben Sierra, who went by the nickname El Indio.)

India died in January 2009, just before Mr Bush left the White House.

Interest in presidential pets has grown over the years as the public has gravitated to more stories of life inside the White House, Ms Pickens said.

Pets can help humanise presidents as well as soften their image, and with the Bidens' newest addition, they could also represent a president's hopes for the nation under new leadership.

"Maybe this is symbolic of Biden's oft-repeated desire to unify the country," she said. "I know that that's kind of trite, but I'm very curious to see how this goes."

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