Baba the History Cat Presents: Eight Great Cats in American Political History

Baba. Photo by Paul Koudounaris.

Hi folks! I know the election is coming and the situation is tense, but don’t think we cats aren’t just as interested in the political future country as you. In fact, we have a long history in American politics, and while I know you’re mostly concerned with human candidates nowadays, I thought I would give you a list of what I consider the nation’s eight greatest politi-cats. (And hey, if you want to know more, check up my upcoming feline history book, A Cat’s Tale.)

8. Bebe the Election Cat: A long haired white cat with orange and brown markings, Bebe didn’t take sides or support a political platform other than democracy itself. In the 1930s through early 1950s in Torrance, California, she helped run a local polling station with her humans, Mr. and Mrs. Addis Thomas. Bebe loved all things related to the electoral process, and when voters arrived she would meet them, help check them in, and walk them to the voting booth. In addition, she liked to climb atop the ballot box and take quick naps on the voter rolls so that no one could read them, all apparently her way of ensuring that the democratic process ran smoothly. A lifetime of dedicated service–she had been doing this since she was a kitten–secured for her in 1952 at the grand old age of 21 a medal from a pet food company and newspaper headlines as America’s “Election Cat.”

Photo by Paul Koudounaris.

7. Senator Capitol Kitty: He arrived in Sacramento in the 1990s as a stray black cat and worked his way up through the legislature until he was appointed the state’s official feline representative. He did not have a vote on state matters, which was perhaps fair since his punctuality and attendance at meetings tended to be spotty, but he did have free reign to come and go from the statehouse, and served as a non partisan goodwill ambassador. His biography, The Adventures of Capitol Kitty was written by Sharon Davis, the wife of Governor Gray Davis, and on his death a gravestone was placed outside the capitol building. It is still there today, near the south door.

6. Slippers, White House Cat: Teddy Roosevelt was a outdoorsman and animal lover, and had as close to a zoo in the White House as any president. He had a particular affinity for cats, including one named Tom Quartz whose favorite pastime was harassing one of the presidential terriers. His favorite, however, was Slippers. A gray polydactyl tabby, Slippers was known for his unshakeable sense of self importance, and it was this that endeared him to the President. In a famous episode, the cat fell asleep in a hallway to leading to the White House dining room, where he wound up blocking the path of several dignitaries headed to a formal dinner. And Slippers simply would not budge. He was completely unconcerned about the presence of VIP guests, and they were eventually forced to navigate around him.

Image courtesy of Paul Koudounaris.

5. Smoky Bob the Bobcat: In 1926 he arrived as a gift sent to President Calvin Coolidge from members of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Agency. The president was certainly surprised to receive a crate containing a snarling bobcat, and it was said he was not too happy about it. Smoky Bob terrified him in fact, and also presented a political quandary.  He had been sent from a staunchly Republican district in Tennessee, and was described as a “good Republican bobcat,” so as much as Coolidge would have preferred to avoid the beast entirely, he decided it would be politically savvy to make a show of graciously receiving it, and Smoky Bob was named an official White House pet. He did not stay long, however. Soon after the press had reported his arrival he was re-homed in a zoo.

4. This is a double entry, for Tabby and Dixie, Abraham Lincoln’s cats: The White House had been a dog’s territory, and except for the freak exception of two tiger cubs Martin Van Buren had tried to keep on the property, was off limits to felines until the Great Emancipator himself broke the bonds with a pair of kittens given to him by Secretary of State William Seward. Lincoln truly loved them; he was said to dote upon them, talking to them for half an hour at a time. He was also known to let them eat from the White House table, despite the disapproval of his wife. Dixie especially seemed to be esteemed by Lincoln, and once in a pique of frustration he was heard to exclaim that the cat was smarter than his whole cabinet. True ground breakers, with Tabby and Dixie a tradition started of having White House cats in pairs, and for three quarters of a century no president with a love of felines was content to have just one.

Image courtesy of Paul Koudounaris.


3. Tom Terrific, the Kennedy Cat: After the crash of the stock market and the Great Depression, the office of White House cat sat vacant for over three decades. Whether there is any connection between the two is something for cultural historians to debate, but a cat finally returned to the Oval Office in 1961, when John Kennedy became president. Tom Kitten was the pet of his daughter Caroline, and he was introduced to the country at a triumphant press conference on January 25, at which Presidential Press Secretary Pierre Salinger described him as a cat of “the alley variety.” Despite his lack of pedigree, Tom was a dashingly handsome feline, and nicknamed by reporters “Tom Terrific.” Unfortunately his tenure was short lived. Due to the president’s allergies, he was sent later in the year to live with the First Lady’s secretary, but he sparked a new wave of First Cats, including felines owned by the Clintons and the family of George W. Bush.

Image courtesy of Paul Koudounaris.

2. Hank, candidate for senate: In 2012 he ran for US Senate in Virginia, having entered the race as an independent after he (or his humans, depending on which story you listen to) had become fed up with both the Republican and Democratic candidates, Tim Kaine and George Allen. A Maine Coon, Hank ran on a platform that stressed his greater work ethic than the major party rivals, and his campaign literature described him as “energetic, inspiring, and real.” Hank finished third after garnering 6000 votes, all write in, and it was considered a very good showing for an otherwise inexperienced and non-human candidate.

1. Morris the Cat: He is most famous as the 9 Lives Pet Food mascot, but Morris was also America’s most ambitious cat, being the only feline to ever run for president. He kicked off his bid for the White House at the National Press Club on August 18. 1987, with a news conference that attracted media from across the country. Eleanor Mondale, the daughter of former Vice President Walter Mondale, introduced him as “a candidate with the quiet demeanor of a Coolidge, the

Image courtesy of Paul Koudounaris.

animal magnetism of a Kennedy, and with the honesty of a Lincoln, a candidate who may shed but will never shred.” And Morris had an entire policy sheet, including such touch points as fur coats being limited to those who can grow them, and full support for spay and neuter programs. Nevertheless, many people considered his run for the Oval Office a stunt, although it’s worth pointing out that from a recognition standpoint Morris was a more viable candidate than most of his competitors: a poll of those running in the two major parties revealed that at the time he entered the race had greater name recognition than anyone besides George H. W. Bush, to whom he eventually lost in 1988. But undeterred, and with neither his spirit nor love for country broken, he ran–and lost–again in 1992.

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