India Dies at Age Eighteen Leaving the White House Without a Resident Feline for the First Time in Sixteen Years
"The President, Mrs. Bush, Barbara, and Jenna are deeply saddened by the passing of their cat, India...(She) was a beloved member of the Bush family for almost two decades. She will be greatly missed."
-- White House press release of January 5, 2009
India, the Bushes' eighteen-year-old black American Shorthair, died on January 4th at the White House. (See photo above.) No cause of death has been given and the Bushes have not announced either any funeral or burial plans.
"The President, Mrs. Bush, Barbara, and Jenna are deeply saddened by the passing of their cat, India...," a White House press release dated January 5th declared. (See "President, Mrs. Bush, Barbara, and Jenna Deeply Saddened by Passing of Their Cat, India...") "(She) was a beloved member of the Bush family for almost two decades. She will be greatly missed."
Also known as "Kitty" and "Willie," it is believed that she was born in Austin in 1991. In January of 2001, she moved with the Bushes to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where she replaced the departing Socks as First Cat. (See Cat Defender post of December 24, 2008 entitled "Former First Cat Socks Is Gravely Ill with Cancer and Other Assorted Maladies.")
During her years at the White House, India remained for the most part out of the spotlight as media curiosity was concentrated instead on the Bushes' Scottish Terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley. (See photo below of Miss Beazley giving India a face washing while Barney awaits his turn.)
From what little was known about her, India apparently had a fondness for tuna-flavored kitty treats (no big surprise there), the White House Library, and piano recitals. (See photo further down the page.)
Despite her best efforts to the contrary, the mere fact that she occupied the prestigious position of First Cat was enough to leave her open to unprovoked attacks from all quarters. In July of 2004, for example, youths in Thiruvananthapuram, India burned an effigy of Bush because they falsely believed that his choice of a name for her was a veiled insult directed at their country.
Actually, she was named by Bush's then nine-year-old daughter, Barbara, in honor of slugger Ruben Sierra who played for the Texas Rangers baseball team, which once was owned by her father. Sierra's nickname was "El Indio."
In addition to their abysmal ignorance, it is the very epitome of ailurophobia to consider it an insult to have a cat share the name of your country. If the truth be told, the feline species has enjoyed a far more glorious past than the state of India.
Even in death there has not been any peace for India. For instance, some of Bush's critics in the Muslim world have peppered a web site used by al-Qaeda with sarcastic and derogatory remarks about her.
"For God's sake, could someone tell us where the wake is to be held?" a commentator who calls himself Dark Side wrote shortly after her death was announced. (See Associated Press, January 6, 2008, "Islamic Militants Ridicule Death of Bush Cat.")
"This is not the right time to die," another blowhard bellowed. "It is a dilemma for the Arab leaders at this time because they are busy and have to leave the region to offer condolences."
Regardless of whatever anyone may have thought of either the man or his presidency, it nonetheless takes a genuinely mean-spirited low-life to go after another person's dead cat. Besides, the prophet Muhammad thought so much of the species that he once ordered an attendant to cut away his sleeve so that he could extricate his arm from underneath a sleeping cat without disturbing its repose.
Despite their avowed love of the prophet and the Koran, those who have unjustly attacked India have demonstrated their ignorance of and total disregard for the teachings of both of them. Cats and other animals are all too often the innocent victims of mankind's never-ending strife and accordingly should be left out of petty squabbles of this sort.
With India's passing, the office of First Cat is now vacant for the first time in sixteen years. Moreover, since President Obama is not a cat-lover, it is likely to remain that way for at least the next eight years.
While he may be able to successfully navigate the ship of state through the perilous political waters of today solely on his own abilities, to attempt such a Herculean feat without the benefit of feline counsel can only be classified as foolhardy. Besides, a mansion as grand as the White House requires the presence of "a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat," as Mark Twain intoned in Puddn'head Wilson, no less than does a lopsided hovel on the poor side of town.
As for India, it can only be hoped that she was given a proper burial and a tombstone and not merely tossed out with yesterday's newspapers. She, like all cats and dogs, deserves at least that much.
For instance, the most famous presidential pet of all time, Richard Nixon's American Cocker Spaniel Checkers, is buried at the Bide-A-Wee Pet Cemetery in Wantagh on Long Island. (See photo above.) Although he has been dead a long time, his grave remains the most popular attraction in the cemetery. Sadly, none of the Nixons have ever stopped by to pay their respects.
Photos: Kimberlee Hewitt of the White House (India), Paul Morse of the White House (India with Barney and Miss Beazley and by herself listing to a piano recital), and Jostein Sand Nilsen of Wikipedia (Checkers' grave).