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Cat Defender

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Former First Cat Socks Is Gravely Ill with Cancer and Other Assorted Maladies


"His days are numbered."
-- Barry Landau


He is the most famous feline to ever have resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and that is attested to by his appearance in 1996 on a series of postage stamps issued by the Central African Republic. A celebrity in his own right, he has shunned fame's siren call in favor of making countless visits to old folks' homes and hospitals in order to give hope to the sickly and abandoned. That is in addition to meeting and greeting tens of thousands of schoolchildren across the country.

His name is Socks and he served as First Cat during the Clinton Administration. Now as he approaches his eighteenth birthday he has been diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and is facing the final curtain. (See photo above of him at the White House.)

"His days are numbered," presidential historian and author Barry Landau told U.S. News and World Report on December 12th. (See "Clinton's Socks the Cat Near Death.")

Although cancer in cats is curable if detected early enough and aggressively treated, Socks' current guardian, former Clinton secretary Betty Currie, has declined to pursue that alternative because of quality of life issues. (See photo below of her with Socks.) This tragic situation is compounded by the fact that the black and white moggy also is suffering from a host of other maladies that include hyperthyroidism and kidney woes as well as hair and weight loss.

His advanced age is another consideration. "They fear he is too old," Landau, who considers himself to be Socks' godfather, added.

Recently apprised of the situation, the Clintons reportedly have volunteered to foot the bill for whatever Socks needs in the way of medical care. As things currently stand, however, it appears that he will be allowed to live out his final days at Currie's home in Hollywood, Maryland where he enjoys lounging in the sun and dining on chicken. (See photo further down the page.)

Hopefully, she and her husband, Bob, will not grow weary of caring for him and prematurely sign his death warrant as recently happened to the world famous Scarlett. (See Cat Defender post of October 27, 2008 entitled "Loved and Admired All Over the World, Feline Heroine Scarlett Is Killed Off by Her Owner after She Becomes Ill.")

That is of particular concern because the sixty-nine-year-old Currie recently consented to go to work for John Podesta on Obama's transition team. Consequently, she is going to be busy most days and spending a disproportionate amount of her time in Washington. (See The Independent, December 18, 2008, "Secretary Who Stood by Clinton Signs Up for the Obama Team.")

Born in Little Rock in March of 1991, Socks was adopted by the Clintons from Chelsea's piano teacher. He first lived with them at the governor's mansion before joining them at the White House in January of 1993.

He pretty much had the rule of the roost until Bill Clinton adopted a chocolate Labrador Retriever named Buddy in 1997. Unfortunately, Socks hated Buddy at first sight and the feeling was mutual.

The situation ultimately proved to be hopeless. "I did better with...the Palestinians and the Israelis than I've done with Socks and Buddy," Clinton later quipped. (See photo at the bottom of the page of him and Socks in happier times.)

Consequently it did not come as any surprise that the Clintons fobbed off Socks on Currie when they relocated to Chappaqua in upstate New York in January of 2001. Buddy went with the Clintons to their new abode but his victory over Socks in the sweepstakes to win the ex-President's affections proved to be a Pyrrhic one in that he shortly thereafter was struck and killed by a motorist.

Having lost another dog to a motorist in Little Rock, Buddy thus became the second dog of the Clintons to wind up as a road fatality. The deaths of both dogs is a poignant reminder of just how many cretins there are in this society who derive pleasure at running down and killing small animals.

In addition to his battles with Buddy, Socks also unwittingly provoked the ire of right-wing lunatic Dan Burton, a republican congressman from Indiana, who resented the use of White House staff, postage, and stationery in order to respond to Socks' fan mail. Considering the reams of junk mail and spam that politicians bombard their constituents with, Burton's actions were not only hypocritical but petty and mean-spirited to boot.

More to the point, Burton and his fellow good-for-nothing bums seldom directly respond to inquiries from the public unless they just happen to come from either wealthy donors or powerful individuals and groups. Even the signing of petitions serves as an open invitation to be deluged with tons of their unrelated propaganda. The import of this patently undemocratic behavior is unmistakable: Dare to complain about anything and the politicians are going to get you!

Although largely out of the limelight since leaving the White House, Socks nevertheless has continued to make occasional public appearances. For instance, he appeared in Little Rock's annual Christmas parade in December of 2002 and in October of 2004 he was with Currie when she addressed the Officers' Spouses Club Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland. His last known public appearance came in May of this year when he served as grand marshal of an animal fair hosted by St. Mary's County Animal Welfare League in Leonardtown, Maryland.

While he is far from being dead, some friends and admirers already have assumed the inevitable. "He was nothing but a gentleman. He was elegant and a perfect resident of the White House," Linda Kulman, who ghost wrote Hillary Clinton's Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids's Letters to First Pets, prematurely eulogized him for U.S. News and World Report in the article cited supra. "He is the last of his kind" and "won't soon be replaced."

Although it is uncertain how Socks contracted cancer, Greg Ogilvie of the California Veterinary Specialist's Angel Care Cancer Center points an accusatory finger at indoor carcinogens. "Cats spend a vast majority of their time in the household, and many of the things that increase the risk of developing cancer with regard to human health, cats are also susceptible to," he told ABC News on December 17th. (See "Socks the Cat's Cancer Battle.")

Because of their diminutiveness and fastidiousness, cats inhale and ingest a disproportionate amount of indoors toxins. Of particular concern are tobacco smoke and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) which settle in their fur and then are ingested during grooming. (See Cat Defender posts of October 19, 2007 and August 22, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Smokers Are Killing Their Cats, Dogs, Birds, and Infants by Continuing to Light Up in Their Presence" and "Indoor Cats Are Dying from Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism, and Various Toxins in the Home.")

Numerous commonplace household items, such as linoleum and the foil from the tops of wine bottles, contain lead as do some cat toys. (See PetPlace, "Lead Toxicity in Cats.")

Even implanted microchips have been linked to cancer. (See Cat Defender post of September 21, 2007 entitled "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs.")

Some armchairs and settees manufactured in China contain sachets of a fungicide known as dimethyl fumarate (DMF) which recently has been blamed for the death of a cat and two individuals in Paris. (See Daily Telegraph, December 4, 2008, "Toxic Armchair Kills Father, Son, and Cat, Family Claims.")

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that indoor environments are lethal to cats. Individuals who therefore choose to cruelly rob their cats of their freedom have a corresponding responsibility to remove all carcinogens from their houses and apartments.

As for Socks, it is difficult to say if Currie has made the correct decision in choosing not to treat his cancer. The disease is making it difficult for him to eat and his weight has subsequently plummeted to six pounds. A feeding tube could be inserted but she feels that would be too intrusive.

The best that can be hoped for him is that his cancer is not the aggressive type and that he will be able to hang on for quite a bit longer. In this context, the words that Dylan Thomas penned for his dying father are equally applicable to Socks:

"Don't go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."


Through his treatment of cancer-stricken cats, Ogilvie has become well acquainted with feline courage in the face of adversity. "One thing that I see each and every day is how much we learn from our kitties with cancer," he told ABC News in the article cited supra. "Kitties don't allow myths and misperceptions about cancer to cloud their living every day. They're a good role model."

Therefore even in his final days Socks is continuing to inspire and to show his human counterparts how to deal with illness and death. Moreover, his impending demise is a poignant reminder of man's mortality as well.

On that somber note, the last word fittingly belongs to Oliver Herford:

"Gather kittens while you may
Time brings only sorrow;
And the kittens of day
Will be old cats tomorrow."


Godspeed, Socks!

Photos: Barbara Kinney of the White House (Socks), Reid Silverman of Southern Maryland Newspapers (Socks and Currie, and Socks asleep), and the Smithsonian (Socks and Clinton).