The Truth About Cats and Presidents

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jan 5, 2009 10:43am

Responding to the news of the death of the Bushes’ cat India, ABC News’ John Berman pens a missive. "The White House press release below eulogizes the now-dead-cat ‘India,’ saying ‘she will be greatly missed," he writes. "The Bush family’s affection for their pets is a heart warming story, if it is to be believed.  But there is ample evidence that their love is anything but unconditional. 

"Yes, the now-dead-cat India had been with the Bush family for nearly two-decades.  However, for much of that time, she was not alone.  While Bush was governor of Texas, they had another cat.  A cat named ‘Ernie.’  Ernie was not some elite ‘black American Shorthair’ like India.  No, he was a six-toed stray that Bush found in a tree outside the Governor’s mansion in Austin. 

"With the prospects of a national campaign ahead of him, Bush brought Ernie into the house, and began politicizing the unsuspecting feline.  It is no exaggeration to say that during the 2000 campaign, Bush talked about Ernie more than he did his own daughters.   He turned the story of Ernie into a sort of morality tale.  ‘Sometimes you may find yourself up in a tree,’  Bush would say, ‘but if you just hang in there and never give up, things will get better for you, just like they did for Ernie.’

"And yes, things DID get better for Ernie for a time…until the election was over.  Because when the Bush family moved to the White House, they brought along the now-dead-cat India, but they did not bring Ernie.  Apparently Ernie was good enough for the campaign, but not good enough for the White House.  The Bush’s feared that Ernie would mistreat the furniture*.  Instead, Ernie was shipped out to California to live with Bush’s friend Brad Freeman.  The arrangement was clearly not to Ernie’s liking, because by the Spring of 2001, Ernie had enough of his surroundings and ran away; taking to the mean streets of Los Angeles.  He was eventually found, but his discontent was obvious.  Ernie’s life was no longer better.

"I do not know what happened to Ernie, or even if he is still alive.  If he passed away over the last few years, there was certainly no White House press release…like there was for the now-dead-cat India."

"(*Some observers might not the irony in the fact that the Bushes were worried about how their pets would treat a sofa, but seem to care little about how they treat reporters. Their dog Barney famously and viciously attacked a Reuters reporter in November…yet somehow still lives comfortable at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.)"


To Berman’s note, I would only add that lest we forget, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote a book called "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets," in which she wrote that it was only after the Clintons’ cat Socks and his “toy mouse” arrived did the White House “become a home."

But after they moved out of the White House, the Clinton family — who adopted Socks in 1991 in Arkansas — gave Socks to Presidential secretary Betty Currie.
“In the annals of human evil, off-loading a pet is nowhere near the top of the list,” wrote Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic. “But neither is it dead last, and it is especially galling when said pet has been deployed for years as an all-purpose character reference.”

Socks is reportedly still alive, though suffering from cancer and in his last days.

Here’s hoping the pending Obama puppy fares better than did Ernie and Socks.

– Jake Tapper and John Berman

UPDATE: The First Lady’s press secretary, Sally McDonough, called us to let us know that Ernie is alive and well and still living with the Freemans in California.

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