British PM's Office to 'Hire' New Rat Catcher
Fourteen years after the last cat was banished from No. 10 Downing Street in London, an array of rats strutting down the street behind newscasters as they reported from the street outside the Prime Minister's front door has forced government officials into action.
"There is certainly a pro-cat faction within the building," the Prime Minister's spokesman confirmed today. "But no decisions have been taken."
Cats have a long and checkered history in Downing Street.
In 1989, while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, a black-and-white stray cat wandered into the building. No. 10 staff adopted him and named him Humphrey, after a character in the comedy "Yes, Minister."
Humphrey was given the unofficial title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, and he lived in peace until 1997, when Tony Blair was elected Prime Minster. It was said that Blair's wife, Cherie, did not like the cat and expelled him from the residence six months after the Blairs arrived.
Blairs office denied that the cat was banished because Cherie Blair disliked it.
Humphrey died in March 2006 at the home of a civil servant who cared for him during his golden years.
The next cat to occupy the office was Sibyl, a cat owned by Chancellor Alistair Darling's wife, Maggie. She brought Sibyl from the family home in Edinburgh in order to rid Downing Street of the mice that were plaguing the building.
But Sybil didn't enjoy life in London, so she was sent back to Scotland.
Now, 14 years after the last cat left the Prime Minister's residence, television correspondents who spend lots of time reporting from in front of Downing Street's famous black door are complaining about the rat invasion.
Last week, BBC political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue was delivering a report from Downing Street when a large rat ran behind him and past the door of No 10.
The new Chief Mouser is likely to be adopted from an area rescue center. The Prime Minister and his children will be in charge of the hiring.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home invited the Prime Minister to choose a suitable candidate from among the rescued animals waiting for a home at its facility.
Its head of cats, Kirsty Walker, said, "We have some great cats here at Battersea and any one of them would make a great family pet for the Camerons, not to say ward off any unfriendly rats."
But like any government action, no matter how seemingly insignificant, things aren't as easy as they seem.
Potential Downing Street cats are being subjected to a rigorous health and safety assessment.
"We are making inquiries about getting a cat but we have to be sure that it's the right thing," said a government source. "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."
The search is also on for a way to fund the feline staffer. "We need to work out who will pay for the cat. It will not be a taxpayer expense cat," said the government source.
Once the new mouser comes on board, he or she will patrol No 10 and No 11 Downing Street, as well as the Cabinet Office. But despite the fact that the Prime Minister's family will be in charge of the adoption, the cat will not be considered a pet.
A senior Treasury source said, "Its a great idea -- as long as people dont think the rats are leaving on a sinking ship."