Something funny happened on my way home from a journalism conference this September: I met a cat. Not just any cat, but Alexander, a cat that was apparently a lobbyist, his owner claimed. The lethargic butterball in a hoodie glared at me as any fat-cat DC insider would, but I was unfazed; I would find out more about him.
Humanity’s fascination with political cats is historic, and the idea of a cat in charge makes total sense: cats are dominating, but in a loving way, they will go extra lengths to help you become self-sufficient while still providing for you, and they are absolutely adorable (sorry, Taft).
A brief history of cats in politics
Life with cats in charge ostensibly began with their presence at our side, although for the more mythically inclined, it should be acknowledged that Cait Sith ruled over cats long before domestication. The Fairy King of Felines aside, we see evidence of reverence for cats beginning around 7500 B.C.E.
In Egypt, Bast was the elegant goddess of cats, and her sleek reign over the dominion of rat hunters meant she held a special place in the hearts of those who, often ravaged by vermin, depended on grain. Cats were so sacred they were often mummified like any pharaoh, and death would be swift for those who dared harm one.
The Virgin Mary lent her name in imprint to a sweet tabby who pacified the baby Jesus, and the Prophet Muhammad let his dear cat Muezza sleep in.
China’s ancient reverence for cats is also well-known, with leonine cats being treated to early versions of cat beds. We don’t know if they, then as now, preferred the box these beds came in.
Since the 1700s, Russia’s Winter Palace has been protected by cats, and 10 Downing Street has been the domain of mousers since the 1980s. Utility of the ancient sort, sure, but also one that endears the four-legged latent leaders to us.
In the United States, 16th President Abraham Lincoln loved Tabby and Dixie, but Andrew Johnson, the 17th, had mice. That was a step back. Later on, cats with names like Siam, Miss Pussy, Tom Quartz, Slipper, Tiger, and famous cats like Tom Kitten and Socks graced the White House.
At present, no cats live in the White House, but Vice President Mike Pence has a tuxedo cat named Oreo.
Cats in office
Famous felines in office aren’t just the patient bystanders of their doting owners. Sometimes they themselves are the ones with a paw on the pulse of their constituents.
Take the dearly departed Stubbs, for example.
In 1997, the large cream tabby became the mayor, perhaps, of Talkeetna, Alaska. From his humble perch at Nagley’s General Store, he managed the affairs of the small town of less than 900 people (and however many cats) for 20 years until his death on July 21, 2017. Approval ratings were surely through the roof.
It’s possible that Stubbs’ position was illegitimate due to specific rules in Alaska’s law that govern how a city—or, in the case of Talkeetna, an unincorporated place—is governed, but who can say no to the people?
In Siberia, too, a cat stood up to be counted among the many, and although not recognized by the running dog administration, Barsik was nevertheless lauded in Barnaul, and now moves on to bigger aspirations: Russia’s 2018 presidential poll.
This is not unprecedented. In 2016, Rhode Island’s Stump and Kentucky’s Limberbutt McCubbins, perhaps lured in by Bernie Sanders’ avian endorsement, joined the race for the executive mansion. If only we’d been wise enough to vote for them.
Ambassadors of good will
Given their broad support, it’s no surprise that cats can lead interesting political lives.
“He’s friendly, you can come say hi,” Michelle Flamm explained.
Flamm, the owner of the large hoodie-wearing tabby, beckoned me toward the lethargic cat. He had been sedated for a cross-country trip from Santa Ana, Calif. to Baltimore, Md. Naturally, I could not resist, and we talked briefly about the tiger cat in the R2-D2 sweatshirt.
I asked Flamm about a reference she made to Alexander being a registered lobbyist.
“So my mom does a bunch of stuff in Georgia for various civic associations and at one point on record there were a bunch of state senators who were talking about Alex and a lobbyist got angry because he was getting undue attention, so we had to register him,“ Flamm recounted.
“So he is now, I guess, a lobbyist, for the East Cobb Civic Association; there’s a bunch of state senators and representatives that absolutely love this cat.”
The story seemed a little too good to be true, and unfortunately I had to fact check a cat.
That’s what I said to myself, and I even wrote it out: “I have to fact check a cat.”
I searched for Flamm’s mother, and having had only a passing acquaintance with Alex, I had only a couple of pieces of information. Ultimately, I found my mark and was able to get in contact with Jill Flamm, Michelle’s mother.
I was fact-checking a cat; was this right?
This Flamm started out like the other by lauding Alexander, then went on to describe in more detail how Alex got to his place in politics.
“In response to some of the questions about Mr. Alexander, I’m active in local politics in Cobb County, which is in Marietta, Georgia, and Alex kind of, being the personable cat that he is, and the fact that he greets everyone at our house door, got to meet some of our local politicians,” Flamm said. “They would drop things off, or [they’d be] former politicians who immediately loved him.”
In response to the lobbyist question, Flamm didn’t exactly deny, but she described how Alex’s charms won others over.
“He doesn’t really lobby for anything, but he had a lot of people volunteering to pet-sit for him if we ever went out of town,” Flamm explained. “Also, he was pet of the month for one of our local magazines because Michelle entered him into [the] contest, and of course he won.”
But was he a political cat? Did he schmooze with politicians, lobby, and make his paw-print on the political landscape of Georgia?
“He did, but it was through my politics. He is a cat that unlike other cats when people would come to the door, or the doorbell would ring he would run to the doorbell to greet them,” Flamm replied.
“And people would say ‘when you go out of town, do you need a cat-sitter?’ Sure, why not! So they would come over and play with him. That is the story of Alex.”