Hank the Cat was not quite a political legend. He never held office, although in 2012, he tried to, with a run for the U.S. Senate. Although he might never have reached the stature or influence of a Ted Kennedy, he did achieve a degree of love and affection from his supporters that’s rare for anyone who has been elected to office.
That love was in evidence after Hank passed away last week.
According to Anthony Roberts, Hank’s campaign coordinator and one of his owners, the feline politician showed signs of illness on Thursday, Feb. 6, when he wouldn’t eat. His family took him in to the vet, where it was discovered that Hank was a very sick kitty, indeed.
“During his exam, they discovered a lump in his abdomen and referred him to a local hospital (South Paws, in Fairfax, Virginia) for an ultrasound,” Anthony wrote on Facebook. “However, his blood tests came back normal with the exception of slightly elevated liver enzymes. The discovery seemed to hit him pretty hard, and he stopped eating almost altogether. He had his ultrasound two days later along with a needle biopsy, and the test results came back yesterday that he was almost certainly looking at lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.”
The end came quickly. Hank was started on chemotherapy and given prednisone to stimulate his immune system, but to no avail. He passed away in the late afternoon, in the arms of his family. He was just a little bit shy of 12 years old.
Hank’s death was announced to fans and followers by his other owner and 2012 campaign manager, Matthew O’Leary, on Facebook.
“[T]here seems to have been a combination of factors that just didn’t allow Hank to prevail, including a heart murmur that developed into congestion, along with anemia and a number of other serious things to deal with on their own, let alone when fighting a very large cancer mass,” O’Leary wrote.
Hank’s 2012 campaign for senator had a broad appeal to voters, even though he was unlikely ever to take office, no matter how many votes he got. The U.S. Constitution requires that senators be at least 30 years old, that they have been U.S. citizens for nine years or more, and that they live in the state that they’re seeking to represent. Hank clearly satisfied the third, but the citizenship status of cats is murky at best, and he was only 10 years old at the time of his campaign. Not only was he too young for the Senate — he was too young even to vote for himself.
His campaign team was realistic about his chances: “We know Hank will be not allowed to be on the ballot, because he doesn’t have a Social Security number,” O’Leary told the Huffington Post at the time. “He doesn’t have the eligibility to vote. And he’s a cat.”
Like any politician, Hank had his enemies. The positive, clean campaign that he ran was marred by a vicious attack ad calling his fitness for office into question. A super PAC called Canines for a Feline-Free Tomorrow criticized him on the grounds that he hadn’t released his birth certificate or tax return, nor had he addressed questions about his use of catnip.
But neither the daunting odds nor sleazy implications would keep the residents of Virginia from rallying to his cry to “Vote the Humans Out,” and his stumping for campaign issues such as spaying and neutering programs. In the election, he came in third behind the two human candidates.
What would it have been like to have Hank in office? We can never know that. But we do know that many people feel much better off for knowing him, however briefly. Anthony writes that “the pain from the part of us that’s gone with him physically hurts in my chest.” It is a pain that anyone who’s ever loved a cat or dog knows well. Our condolences to Anthony and Matthew, as well as everyone else who loved Hank.
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