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Election 2004: All the Presidents' Pets

Mo Rocca
Author and Comedian
Thursday, October 14, 2004; 11:00 AM

Which President had the most pets? How have the First Pets influenced the presidency? What was Roosevelt's one-legged rooster named?

Comedian Mo Rocca was online to discuss his new book, "All the Presidents' Pets," a thorough look at the true story behind our nations' four legged First Animals.


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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Mo Rocca: Hi everyone! I'm so excited to have written a book. I feel so substantive.

I love questions so for me this experience we're about to have is hotter than anything else I could find on the web ... well, almost anything.

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Redwood City, Calif.: Mo --
Just got your book. Clearly, it's a story that had to be told. I'm curious as to how your all-star cast -- Wolf Blitzer, Ann Coulter (the Outback Steakhouse-Coulter gone wild segment was great), Helen Thomas, Candy Crowley, etc. -- are reacting to the book and their portrayals?
Take Care

Mo Rocca: Wolf is a friend of mine. Friends tell each other the truth, so Wolf appreciates that I told him straight up that he's a Japanese man. His own parents didn't have the courage.

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Lexington, Ky.: Hey, Mo. Does presidential hopeful Ralph Nader have any pets?

Mo Rocca: Nader has a hairless chihuahua. Actually it might be a rat with mange. Actually I think that chihuahuas are related to rats.

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Boston, Mass.: Has either one of the Presidential candidates ever dressed their pets in human clothes? I hate that.

Mo Rocca: No but Calvin Coolidge used to put on costumes. There's a great shot of him in an Indian headress - or is it spelled "headdress"? In any event, Coolidge had a wallaby. How cool is it to have a pet with a pouch?

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Charlottesville, Va.: Hey Mo... greetings from Sabatoland. If people voted based on who they wanted to be First Lady, do you think the Republicans would win in a landslide? I'm a huge fan of Teresa Heinz Kerry, but she seems too "feisty" for average American. Darn shame...

Would you ever run for office? POTUS? NYC comptroller? Town sheriff?

Mo Rocca: I'd like to be alderman ... or minority whip. That sounds really hot.

Terry Heinz will not be First Lady if Kerry is elected. She will be Empress of America. I'd like her to ride around on an elephant, perhaps with a toucan perched on her shoulder.

Buchanan had an elephant - a gift of the King of Siam.

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Lexington, Ky.: FDR is my favorite president. What were some of his pets?

Mo Rocca: FDR had Fala, the greatest Scottie ever. Fala met Churchill's poodle Rufus on the deck of the USS Augusta, where the Atlantic Charter - cementing our alliance with Britain during WWII - was forged. People give too much credit to the two men who were on that ship.

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Beaufort, N.C.: Mo, are you concerned that your job may be outsourced. Perhaps to Ken Jennings? I would like to ask him the same question about you if I ever get the chance.

Mo Rocca: If Ken Jennings is willing to move to Bangalore, I'm in deep doodoo.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: What inspired you to write this book?

Mo Rocca: I've known everything about all the animals that have lived in the White House for too long. It was starting to hurt. (All the information was crammed in a tiny space, just above my medulla oblongada.) I needed to purge.

Plus I'd always wanted to star in a thriller with Helen Thomas.

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Washington, D.C.: I've heard you're a history buff -- would you ever write something to get young people intrested in their heritage?

Mo Rocca: Young "people"? It depends what you mean by "people". I think this would get young Siamese cats interested in their heritage. I devote a whole chapter to Rutherford B. Hayes' cat Miss Pussy, the first Siamese cat in America!!

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Miami, Fla.: Did you write that book just so you could be introduced as "Comedian and Author" Mo Rocca?

Mo Rocca: Yes.

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Chicago, Ill.: At what age did your presidential fascination begin and what types of things did you like to do growing up?

Thanks!

Mo Rocca: My fascination began about seven years ago, with a trip to Martin Van Buren's estate in Kinderhook, NY. He had a Chinese porcelain sink. He also had two tiger cubs from the Sultan of Oman. In my book I explain how they caused the Panic of 1837, the first economic crisis in America. (An example of Good Presidential Pets Gone Bad.)

As a child I liked memorizing - world capitals, Oscar winners, the TV guide. I also trained myself as a gymnast.

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Boston, Mass.: How is it, exactly, that you got interested in presidential pets? Actually.. no.. I changed my mind, I don't want to know.

Mo Rocca: Thanks. I'm not sure how I could answer it anyway. It just came to me.

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Mt. Rainier, Md.: Mo, I love horses. Does Bush have horses on his ranch, and does he know how to ride them? Did any other presidents love riding horses?

Mo Rocca: Bush accidentally ran over his horse with his SUV.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think I should be for Halloween?

Mo Rocca: A one-legged rooster with a crutch. Teddy Roosevelt had one!

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Newport, R.I.: Hi Mo! I was wondering where the more unusual presidential pets stay. I'm assuming elephants and wallabies aren't allowed in the Lincoln Bedroom. Hope to see you when you come to Johnson & Wales.

Mo Rocca: Inconvenient presidential pets are often sent away. Eisenhower exiled his pig (a gift from an Indiana man named Elden Holsapple - great name!) to his Gettysburg farm. MVB's tiger cubs ended up in the zoo as did Coolidge's bobcat Smokey.

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Lexington, Ky.: In your research, did you find that a pet ever caused a presidential candidate to lose the race for president?

Mo Rocca: James Buchanan spent way too much time with his Newfie Lara, hitting the bars on Dupont Circle. (Lara was actually male.) Seven states seceded before Lincoln took office after Buchanan's defeat. Clearly Lara was enabling Buck's negligence.

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McLean, Va.: Mo, is it true that you only sleep for forty-five minutes a night? And that when you do sleep, you sleep in a chair?

Mo Rocca: Yes. And the worst part is, it's an ottoman. Very difficult to lie down.

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Washington, D.C.: Mo -- You are hilarious! I always enjoy your work on the Daily Show and VH1.

A couple years ago, the holiday theme at the White House was the 'first pets'. Did you get a chance to see it? I especially liked the tree decorated with birds from each state! Though the plaster-of-paris pinata's of Barney and the other Bush pets was kinda weird.

Does John Kerry have any family pets?

Mo Rocca: Thanks. John Kerry has a German Shepherd named Cym (pronounced Kim). He also has a canary ... perhaps to seal up the miner vote? Then of course there was the hamster he pulled out of the Mekong Delta.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you think that rectangular thing under the back of Mr. Bush's jacket is perhaps a pet?

Mo Rocca: I love that! There's my second book!

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Woonsocket, R.I.: Haven't read your book yet, I'm sorry if you addressed this issue. When Bill Clinton became President, he had a cat. At a subsequent point in his term, he obtained a dog.

Was this a shrewd political move based on polling results, or a way to meet chicks?

Mo Rocca: Both. It was also a result of centrist Democrat displeasure with Socks the Cat. It was his urinary tract infection that inspired Hillary's ill-fated health care initiative. Buddy the lab (the most popular breed) was a perfect choice for a White House especially attuned to the polls.

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Rome, Italy: On the cover of your new book, what president pet are you interviewing?

Mo Rocca: I'm trying to learn the truth from Barney the Scottie (Bush's dog) throughout this page-turning, nail-biting, potboiling, blockbuster, life-changing thriller.

By the way, the book makes an excellent chew toy once you're through reading it.

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Tampa, Fla.: Hi Mo! Did any presidents have a monkey? I want a monkey.

Mo Rocca: No but Taft had a cow named Pauline.

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Washington, D.C.: Mo, you mentioned Churchill's poodle, do you know of some other interesting pets that other world leaders had? How about Gorbachev or maybe Saddam? Thanks.

Mo Rocca: Hitler had a dog named Blondie. We don't like her.

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Washington, D.C.: Mo is short for...?

Mo Rocca: My father was the ambassador to Mozambique when I was born.

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Anonymous: Can you shed some light on the hierarchy within the White House press corps? Who sits at your table during lunch?

Mo Rocca: Helen and I have our own table in the corner. We're happy to let anyone else sit with us. The Fox News people eat in the State Dining Room.

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Baltimore, Md.: Which president had the most pets?

Mo Rocca: Teddy Roosevelt had 36, including a zebra, an antelope, four guinea pigs, and five snakes.

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Mo Rocca: Sadly I must go now. Being a media whore is exhausting! Thanks for joining me for this webchat. Next time please send pictures.

Oh and please come to Politics and Prose tonight at 7pm.

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