W A S H I N G T O N, April 10, 2001 -- The cat-hunt is over. President Bush's beloved six-toed kitty has been found after disappearing from his new digs in California.
As first reported by ABCNEWS.com, Ernie the cat went missing three weeks ago from his new home in Los Angeles with Brad Freeman, a good friend of the president. Ernie turned up early this morning unharmed, strolling along the Avenue of the Stars in Century City, more than 2 miles from the Freeman house.
"Mrs. Bush is delighted that Ernie is back in the good hands of Brad Freeman," said Noelia Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the first lady. And even though Ernie has wandered off from Freeman's home once already, she added, "We're pretty confident that Ernie is going to be safe this time."
The first family was quite concerned about the missing cat. Several years ago, then-Texas Gov. Bush found the young orange and white cat up a tree in the yard of the governor's mansion in downtown Austin.
Bush grew fond of the six-toed feline, began to feed him, and eventually made him part of Lone Star State's first family. The Bushes decided to name the cat "Ernie" after author Ernest Hemingway, who famously kept a six-toed cat.
When the governor became the president-elect, the decision was made that the street-wise cat might not be right for the White House.
"Ernie is more of a free spirit," press aide Gordon Johndroe said in December. Ernie had a tendency to claw things, including Bush at times, and the family worried that he might ruin precious White House furniture.
Keep Your Paws Off My Claws!
The Bushes decided to give the cat to Freeman, a close friend and prolific fund-raiser. Freeman, founder of the investment banking firm Freeman Spogli in Los Angeles, had developed a fondness for Ernie during frequent visits to Texas over the last few years.
Soon after Freeman took Ernie to his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, the cat dug in, clawing some of the furniture. Instead of having the cat declawed, Freeman took Ernie to a veterinarian, who placed plastic caps on Ernie's claws. Ernie apparently did not take well to the restraints, and broke out of the Freeman compound about two weeks ago.
Ernie has beaten the odds before. When he was running for president, Bush would talk about Ernie as an example of perseverance: "Sometimes you may find yourself up in a tree, wet and cold. But if you just hang in there and never give up, things will get better for you, just like they did for Ernie."