While dogs have historically been the most popular presidential pets
, with horses
coming in second, a meow-memorable cat
or two has occupied the White House
Among the most distinguished kitties to grace the Oval Office were Misty Malarky Ying Yang, an irrepressible Siamese
who belonged to Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy; India, George W. Bush’s beautiful black kitty; Calvin Coolidge’s beloved Tiger (the 29th president’s favorite among his four felines); and others.
In all, 10 presidents were cat-fanciers. But Socks Clinton was the most influential First Feline of all, due to his congenial, almost dog-like personality.
A Furry Political Star is Born
The Clintons acquired the handsome black and white tuxedo fellow in 1991 when he was a kitten
. He reportedly was a stray who lived in the vicinity of daughter Chelsea’s piano teacher, and jumped into Chelsea’s arms one day as she was leaving the home after a lesson.
When the Clintons moved into the White House, Socks became a beloved overnight celebrity and arguably the world’s most famous cat.
A Congressman Gets Catty Over Socks
But like his dad, Bill, the kitty’s administration was not without controversy.
In fact, the First Feline came under fire for his use of fancy White House stationery, staff and postage when responding to the mountains of fan mail (mostly from kids) he regularly received.
(My brother once sent Socks a fan letter, proclaiming him the 'cat's meow,' to which the First Kitty responded with a letter on embossed official White House stationery, along with a handsome glossy 8x10 autographed picture of himself.)
He also had his own dedicated phone line, so that the staff could respond to the numerous phone inquiries about him that flooded the White House.
This did not sit well with Republican Representative Dan Burton, who despised Bill Clinton.
After Burton took Clinton to task for what he saw as cat-astrophic waste of tax payer money, Socks was obliged to relinquish his White House enterprise.
But the First Kitty remained so popular that he started his own fan club.
He was also the subject of two books
that capitalized on his popularity: Hilary Clinton’s “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets” in 1998, and the 1993 cartoon book “Socks Goes to Washington: The Diary of America's First Cat” by Michael O’Donoghue and Jean-Claude Suares.
A Fond Farewell to the Famous First Cat
After the Clintons acquired Buddy, a chocolate Lab who joined the family as a puppy
in 1997, Socks wanted no parts of the pooch. (Sadly, Buddy died after being hit by a car in 2002.) So the famous cat relinquished the spotlight and went to live with Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie. Currie was so fond of Socks that she made him home cooked
When Socks passed away
in February 2009 following a courageous battle with cancer at the ripe old age of 20, he was memorialized by the media in a manner befitting human celebrities and heads of state.
Many years from now, I am sure that few will remember Dan Burton. But I am certain that cat lovers the world over will continue to have fond “felines” for Socks, the most famous cat to ever occupy the White House.