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Cat Defender

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sybil, 10 Downing Street's Former First Feline, Dies Unexpectedly from an Undisclosed Illness

"As numerous thinkers have noted, cats often have a soothing quality on their owners. Granted, the economy is looking as shaky as a newborn kitten at the moment, but imagine what condition it might be in now without Sybil."
-- The Independent's eulogy

It has been a bad year for political cats. George Bush's cat, India, passed away back in January while Bill Clinton's cat, Socks, was killed off in March. Both felines were eighteen-years-old. (See Cat Defender posts of January 24, 2009, March 12, 2009, and December 24, 2008 entitled, respectively, "India Dies at Age Eighteen Leaving the White House Without a Resident Feline for the First Time in Sixteen Years," "Too Cheap and Lazy to Care for Him During His Final Days, Betty Currie Has Socks Killed Off and His Corpse Burned," and "Former First Cat Socks Is Gravely Ill with Cancer and Other Assorted Maladies.")

Now comes the sad news that the former First Feline of 10 Downing Street in London, Sybil, has died. Press reports are sketchy and contradictory, but apparently she died July 27th at the London home of an acquaintance of her former owners, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and his wife, Maggie.

Neither the cause of death nor her age have been disclosed. All that is known is that she died after a brief illness.

She could have succumbed to natural causes or been deliberately killed off by her new guardians simply because she had become ill. Since the Darlings are keeping mum on the subject and Fleet Street has decided to play along, the public likely will never know the truth surrounding her death.

From photographs taken of her, she certainly does not look like as especially old cat. Of course, it is difficult to gauge the age of a cat. (See photos above and below.)

The black and white moggy created quite a media splash when she arrived with the Darlings from Edinburgh on September 10, 2007. "Sybil has been brought down because there are mice here," Darling said at the time. "She's a really good mouser." (See Cat Defender post of September 19, 2007 entitled "After a Dreary Ten-Year Absence, Number 10 Downing Street Has a New Resident Feline and Her Name Is Sybil.")

Since Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah, elected to bunk at roomier Number 11, Sybil and the Darlings moved into Number 10 where she initially was given free rein of the grounds. She even was given her own basket at the Exchequer.

For some undisclosed reason, her tenure at 10 Downing Street turned out to be a brief one and she was unceremoniously dismissed after only six months on the job. According to unsubstantiated reports that have appeared in the English media, Sybil was given the sack because of Brown's antipathy not only toward cats but all animals in general.

The less than enthusiastic welcome that she received from the Browns upon her arrival tends to lend a certain amount of credence to those rumors. "The prime minister and Sarah do not have a problem with it (Sybil's presence)," Brown's spokesman told the BBC on September 12, 2007. (See "Number 10 Gets New Feline First Lady.")

Regrettably, not a great deal is known about Sybil other than that she was adopted from a shelter by the Darlings and named after Basil Fawlty's wife from the 1970s sitcom, Fawlty Towers. Nevertheless, her meteoric rise demonstrates that she was an overachiever.

Unlike her distinguished predecessor, Humphrey, who received a hundred pounds sterling per annum for his services, she was not paid for keeping Number 10 free of rodents. Not only could that have been grounds for a sexual discrimination lawsuit but the lack of remuneration could have prompted her to walk off the job. (See Cat Defender post of April 6, 2006 entitled "Humphrey, the Cat from 10 Downing Street Who Once 'Read' His Own Obituary, Passes Away at 18.")

With the Tories expected to gain control of Parliament in next year's much anticipated national election, 10 Downing Street is unlikely to have another feline resident anytime soon because opposition leader David Cameron, like Brown, is anything but a cat-lover. (See BBC, July 29, 2009, "No Plan for Number 10 Cat -- Cameron.")

Although her tenure was indeed brief, Sybil nevertheless left her indelible mark on both the Darlings and the office of the Exchequer. "As numerous thinkers have noted, cats often have a soothing quality on their owners," The Independent eulogized her on July 29th. (See "Feline Friends.") "Granted, the economy is looking as shaky as a newborn kitten at the moment, but imagine what condition it might be in now without Sybil."

Since no funeral or burial plans have been announced, it is pretty much a given that Sybil was deprived of both and that in and of itself is a disgrace. Even a tombstone and a permanent memorial would not have been extravagant.

She will be missed.

Photos: BBC (Sybil on the go) and Press Association (Sybil up close).