Larry Faces Many Challenges and Dangers in His New Rôle as 10 Downing Street's Resident Feline
|10 Downing Street's New Cat, Larry|
"I'm sure he will be a great addition to Downing Street and will charm our many visitors."(This article originally was written for intended publication on 15 April 2011.)
-- Prime Minister David Cameron
For the first time in three years 10 Downing Street has a resident feline. His name is Larry and he is a four-year-old brown and white tom.
Rescued from the streets back in January by the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in south London, he was sterilized before being offered to the prime minister's official residence. He arrived at his new abode on February 16th in the passenger seat of a blue van and proceeded to spend the better part of his first day on the job, as is customary with all cats, exploring his new surroundings.
"Voyez un chat entrer pour la première fois dans une chambre; il visite, il regarde, il flaire, il ne reste par un moment en repos, il ne se fie à rien qu' après avoir tout examinè, tout connu," Jean-Jacques Rousseau observed in the Emile.
Mark Twain even went so far as to declare that there was something decidedly amiss with any cat that behaved differently. "Being fond of cats, and acquainted with their ways, if I had been a stranger and a person had told me that this cat had spent half an hour in that room before, but hadn't happened to think to examine it until now, I should have been able to say with conviction, 'Keep an eye on her, that's no orthodox cat, she's an imitation, there's a flaw in her makeup, you'll find she's born out of wedlock or some other arrested-development has happened, she's no true Christian cat, if I know the signs'," he wrote in The Mysterious Stranger.
In particular, Larry took a romp up and down the residence's plushly-carpeted stairs. Later, he nonchalantly pussyfooted across the conference table in the Cabinet Room where the momentous decisions affecting Her Majesty's subjects and others are made.
Like all cats, he was considerably put off by the residence's closed doors and windows. That is not the least bit surprising in that closed portals long have been an especially sore spot with cats everywhere.
|Larry Arrives at His New Home in a Cage|
As if the ride from the shelter and getting acquainted with a strange, new environment were not stressful enough for the little fellow, an unruly and thoroughly beastly mob of nincompoops from Fleet Street were on hand to bedevil him at every turn. It therefore should not have come as any surprise when he scratched ITV News reporter Lucy Manning after she forcibly attempted to make him pose for her.
"Never work with animals they say...just been to Number Ten to film Larry the cat in the Thatcher Room. Got four big scratches," the wussy later whined to the Daily Mail on February 17th. (See "Don't Mess with Me! Downing Street Ratcatcher Takes Over Cabinet after Seeing Off ITV Reporter.")
Manning quite obviously is exaggerating because the marks left on her arm by Larry do not appear to have been either very deep or to have drawn any blood.
In addition to their inconsiderate behavior, the journalists' mistreatment of Larry demonstrates once again their abysmal ignorance of cats. First of all, cats need and deserve time in order to adjust to new environments. Secondly, they never should be either harassed or cornered under any circumstances and anyone who treats them in such a cavalier fashion is richly deserving of whatever retribution that they receive in return.
"No respecting cat has any leanings toward a career as an artist's model," Carl Van Vechten observed in his 1922 seminal work, The Tiger in the House, and the same applies doubly to posing for impertinent journalists. Besides, experienced photographers and television cameramen realize that in dealing with animals it is best to exercise a little patience and to keep their distance.
It therefore is somewhat ironic that it is precisely the Fourth Estate that Larry has to thank for his new appointment. After all, it was television and newspaper reports about 10 Downing Street being overrun with mice that ultimately prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to bring him in and out of the cold in the first place.
The situation had gotten so far out of hand in fact that it had become a familiar spectacle for viewers of the evening news on ITV, the BBC, and other news outlets to see mice scurrying past the familiar black door that denotes the most famous of all addresses in London. A crow even was spotted feasting on a dead mouse nearby.
Unflattering comparisons likening politicians to rats sans doute also factored into the decision to bring Larry on-board. As it is commonly understood by knowledgeable individuals, birds of a feather flock together and people are known by the company that they keep.
|Larry on the Stairs|
The decision to hire Larry nevertheless constituted a major policy flip-flop on the part of the ailurophobic Cameron. For example, as far back as July of 2009 when he and the Tories were still in opposition and as late as January 24th of this year he had declared cats to be strictly verboten at 10 Downing Street. (See BBC, July 29, 2009, "No Plans for Number Ten Cat -- Cameron" and Guardian editorial of January 25, 2011, "In Praise of...Downing Street Cats.")
When it came time to welcome Larry to his new home Cameron was singing an entirely different tune. "I'm sure he will be a great addition to Downing Street and will charm our many visitors," he predicted to the Daily Mail in the article cited supra.
Nevertheless, the simple act of humanely adopting a cat and thus sparing a life appears to have taxed both the intellectual acumen and financial resources of Cameron's coalition government. "We are making inquiries about getting a cat but we have to be sure that it's the right thing," a governmental source earlier confided to the Daily Mail on January 25th. (See "A Cat to Clean Up Politics...One Number Ten Rat at a Time as First (sic) Mouser Since Humphrey Is Summoned to Downing Street.") "We have to check that no one in Downing Street is going to die on the spot if they come into contact with cat hair."
Instead of engaging in such nonsensical, time-wasting babble, Cameron and his cronies should have been more concerned about the deleterious health effects associated with errant urine and feces. Of course, it always is conceivable that the idea of saving a few sovereigns by adding rat turds to the beef stew appealed to the tightfisted government as an austerity measure.
"And we need to work out who will pay for the cat," the unidentified source continued. "It will not be a taxpayer expense cat."
The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from such revealing statements as those is that it never occurred to the rich-as-Croesus Cameron to actually pay Larry's adoption fee out of his own pocket. Hopefully, that is not a portent of events to come that will see Larry reduced to panhandling in the street for his meals and veterinary care.
Besides, there is nothing egregiously wrong with the Exchequer spending a few pounds of the public's moola on the care of a cat. In fact, doing so would be far preferable to squandering millions on imperialistic misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere.
|Larry Checks Out the Carpeting in His New Surroundings|
Even more revolting, preliminary indications are that Cameron and his family intend to keep Larry at a distance and to treat him strictly as a domestic servant. C'est-à-dire, he is expected to catch mice while simultaneously being denied the affection and veneration that all cats so richly deserve.
As Twain understood so well, merely owning a cat is not sufficient. "A house without a cat, and a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat, may be a perfect house, perhaps, but how can it prove title?" he wrote in Pudd'head Wilson.
Described by the staff at Battersea as a lively, confident, and social cat with a "strong predatory drive," Larry should not have any problem getting the mice under control. "I can definitely see Larry holding his own," the rescue group's Kirsty Walker told the Daily Mail in the February 17th article cited supra.
Nevertheless, the Fleet Street crowd claims that during his first two months on the job Larry did not catch a single mouse. It is unclear how they arrived at that conclusion since none of them actually live at 10 Downing Street.
Much more to the point, Japanese researchers have determined that it is not necessary for cats to actually kill mice in order to be effective pest control agents. Often their smell alone is sufficient in order to convince rodents that it is time for them to pack their bags and relocate elsewhere.
In April, however, Larry was spotted with some dead mice and that seems not only to have quieted his critics in the media but to considerably have altered Cameron's estimation of him. "I'm a big Larry fan," he caroled to the Daily Mail on June 12th in an abrupt change of heart. (See "Larry the Cat Makes First Kill at Downing Street...so at Least One of Cameron's Policies Is Working.") "We have got a big mouse infestation in Downing Street and Larry has caught some mice."
Although the magnitude of the problem is not to be discounted, the good news is that it apparently is limited to mice. "I actually took a picture of one in my flat on my mobile phone, because it was looking at me," Cameron continued in the same article. "Rats, I'm frightened of, but I haven't seen any of those."
|Larry and Lucy Manning|
Aside from the mice, Larry's far bigger problem is going to be staying in the good graces of Cameron and all the other self-important, high-muck-a-mucks who are constantly descending upon the center of power in England. His two most recent predecessors were unable to retain the patronage of their employers and as the result curtly were given their walking papers.
For example, a lovely black and white female named Sybil owned by Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and his wife Maggie arrived at 10 Downing Street from Edinburgh on September 10, 2007. "Sybil has been brought down because there are mice here," Darling declared on that historic occasion. "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.")
Unfortunately, Darling's boss, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, reportedly hated not only cats but all animals as well and as the result Sybil lasted only six months on the job. Even worse, she died July 27, 2009 in exile at the London home of her new guardians. (See Cat Defender post of August 13, 2009 entitled "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," The Independent began its eulogy of her on July 29, 2009. (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."
Before Sybil, there was Humphrey, a longhaired tuxedo, who arrived at the prime minister's residence in 1990. He got on famously with prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major but lasted only six months with Tony Blair before being unceremoniously sacked by his cat-hating wife, Cherie, in 1997.
That is the same Cherie Blair that the Countess of Wessex once unflatteringly described as "horrid, horrid, horrid." Former Conservative MP turned scribbler Ann Widdecombe remains to this very day even blunter in her criticism of Cherie's mistreatment of Humphrey.
"The soulless meanie got rid of him, sniffing that he was unhygienic and deleterious to health," she told The Telegraph earlier this year on January 26th. (See "A New Cat for Westminster.") "Not half as unhygienic as your husband's party was for the nation, madam. It wasn't dear Humphrey who filched the profits from pension funds and poisoned the economy."
|Scratches on Manning's Arm|
During his tenure at 10 Downing Street, an extensive dossier compiled by an unidentified bureaucrat described Humphrey as a "workaholic who spends nearly all his time at the office, has no criminal record, does not socialize a great deal or go to many parties and has not been involved in any sex or drug scandals that we know of." In addition to keeping his chin clean, he also was known as a proficient mouser.
Unlike Sybil, he was able to forge a new life for himself after his eviction from Downing Street and lived another nine years until his death at age eighteen in March of 2006. (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.")
Politicians are every bit as entitled to adopt cats as private individuals but they should not be allowed to get away with either neglecting or abandoning them. Adopting a cat is a lifetime commitment and politicians who fail to honor their obligations are setting a bad example for everyone else.
Almost as appalling is their steadfast unwillingness to demand that the anti-cruelty statutes be enforced, especially against shelters, vivisectors, ornithologists, and wildlife biologists. (See Cat Defender post of July 18, 2011 entitled "Evil Professors Have Transformed College Campuses into Hotbeds of Hatred Where Cats Are Routinely Vilified, Horribly Abused, and Systematically Killed.")
Cats also need permanent abodes and should not be bandied about like Flying Dutchmen. Just as importantly, responsibility for their safety, health, grooming, and diet cannot be easily delegated.
In particular, Cameron already has demonstrated his gross dereliction of duty by failing to shield Larry from the onslaught of the media. If he were a thinking and considerate individual, he would have given Larry time to settle into his new environment before throwing him to the wolves from Fleet Street.
|A Bobby Gives Larry the Boot|
Even more outrageously, he stood idly by twiddling his thumbs last month while a no-good, rotten peeler posted outside number 10 kicked Larry.
"Someone showed me the picture of that, but I'm reliably informed that it was a nudge, not anything firmer," Cameron curtly dismissed the flagrant abuse in the June 12th Daily Mail article cited supra.
The incident also brings up the far more dangerous issue of Cameron's allowing Larry to roam the perilous streets of Westminster unsupervised. Humphrey, for instance, narrowly escaped perishing underneath the wheels of Bill Clinton's limousine.
Blair failed Humphrey, the Darlings failed Sybil, and Clinton abysmally mistreated his own cat, Socks. (See Cat Defender posts of December 24, 2008 and March 12, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Former First Cat Socks Is Gravely Ill with Cancer and Other Assorted Maladies" and "Too Cheap and Lazy to Care for Him During His Final Days, Betty Currie Has Socks Killed Off and His Corpse Burned.")
Rescue groups also are deserving of censure for their failure to hold the high and mighty to the same standards that they impose on the general public. Principally among these would have been for Battersea to have exacted a pledge from Cameron to care for Larry until his last breath.
The problems associated with rescue groups placing more emphasis upon cozying up to those in power than on animal welfare are by no means confined to Battersea. For example, Cats Protection offered to present Cameron with Harry, a ten-year-old homeless cat, who captured the most votes in a poll that the organization conducted on Facebook.
No reason has been offered as to why he was passed over in favor of Larry but Karen Thompson of Cats Protection insists that he would have been perfect for the job. "He's a friendly and affectionate character who used to live in a care home where he would cuddle up to the residents," she told the BBC on January 28th. (See "Harry Voted into Downing Street in Cats Protection Poll.") "As a result, he'd be used to the comings and goings at Downing Street and would be a big hit with the Cabinet and other guests. And you could say he's already done his bit for the Big Society."
Unless he since has secured another home, Harry is still at Cats Protection's shelter in Chelwood Gate, West Sussex. If so, that is a real shame because he most definitely is not only a handsome fellow but also a long-suffering older tom who could use and deserves a break.
The best that can be hoped for as far as Larry is concerned is that he somehow will be able to swim with the political sharks at 10 Downing Street and survive. The inhospitable treatment meted out to Sybil and Humphrey is, worrisomely, a strong indication that he has a rough road ahead of him.
If things do not work out for him, there is the remote possibility that he might be able to procure work a few doors down the street at the Palace of Westminster where both houses of parliament reportedly also are overrun with mice. Specifically, they have been spotted, inter alia, in the Peers Guest Room and Bishops' Bar at the House of Lords as well as in the press gallery at the House of Commons.
Although the Palace currently employs both a full-time exterminator as well as a consultant, they so far have not proven themselves to be up to the job. As a result, both Baroness Ilora Gillian Finlay, a crossbencher from Wales, and Tory backbencher Rodney Elton are calling for cats to be brought in to rid the premises of mice.
"There is a health hazard from mice. They also eat the insulation and electrical wires. That creates a fire hazard," Lady Finlay told the Daily Mail on March 5, 2010. (See "More Parliamentary Fat Cats Needed Fast.") "Parliament has a lot of wood paneling and would burn very fast."
In sentiments strikingly similar to those expressed not too long ago by Cameron's underlings, Lord Brabazon, chairman of committees in the upper chamber, has nixed the idea of bringing in cats on the grounds that some peers are allergic to them. Instead, he has established a mouse helpline where his fellow lords can report rodent sightings. He freely admits however that often by the time that the exterminators arrive the mice wisely have vamoosed.
Hence, he has fallen back on blaming his colleagues for being messy eaters. "If you were a mouse, you would rather eat the crumbs of a smoked salmon sandwich than poisonous bait," he told the Daily Mail in the March 5, 2010 article cited supra.
In days gone by, the upper chamber was blessed with the services of a cat that allegedly caught up to sixty mice a night. In order to have supported a rodent infestation of that magnitude the lords must have been even bigger slobs back then than they are today.
Although they have received a notoriously bad press down through the ages and vivisectors continue to horribly abuse and slaughter them with impunity, mice are not without their supporters. "They (rats) are extremely curious, but man can't abide an animal that is as intelligent and curious as he is," Colin Arundel of the Yorkshire Rat Club told The Independent on March 26, 2009. (See "Why We Should Learn to Love Rats.") "They will acquire and they will learn very quickly."
Feldmäuse are, generally speaking, clean animals who, if kept out of food and grain stores, cause very few problems. Large numbers of city mice can create all sorts of problems, as medieval Europe found out with the bubonic plague, if proper sanitation measures are not taken.
There is one point, however, on which most individuals are in general agreement. "I would rather trust a rat than a politician," Arundel added.
Photos: The Guardian (Larry stretched out), Mirror (Larry in a cage), Daily Mail and Mark Large (Larry coming down the stairs), 10 Downing Street (Larry on the Carpet), ITV (Manning with Larry and her scratched arm), Daily Mail, Agence France Presse, and Getty Images (peeler kicking Larry), and The Independent (Harry).