2014-03-26 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Move over, Morris. The orange cats at the country home of Winston Churchill have a better gig going. Before willing Chartwell in Kent to the National Trust, the prime minister and his family insisted that residing at the house, there always be a marmalade cat with a white bib and white paws and that he will always be named “Jock.”

The newest inhabitant –Jock VI- is a seven-month-old orange tabby, a foster kitten from a British rescue- Croydon Animal Samaritans. He moseyed into the prime minister’s mansion this month when his predecessor Jock V moved to Scotland with his owner, the former estate manager. Jock V had been the Chartwell cat since 2010.

“He will feast on tuna and lounge on Persian rugs,” said Jock VI’s owner, Chartwell’s house and collections manager Katherine Barnett. “It’s a modern-day rags-to-riches story,” she added. Past caretakers and curators have tailed the previous Jocks to make sure they respected the stately furnishings and didn’t customize the furniture with their claws. The newest Jock has a green flap kitty door and can spend supervised time in the garden where there is plentiful catmint.


Jock VI on the Churchill statue at Chartwell Jock VI on the Churchill statue at Chartwell Few know of Churchill’s feline fidelity. He was a long time cat lover. Even during World War II, cats lived at Chartwell. One was an orange tabby named “Tango.” Sir John Coville, the prime minister’s secretary, told a story of having lunch with Churchill and Tango in June 1941 while many war worries were on the prime minister’s mind:

“I had lunch with the P.M. and the Yellow Cat, which sat in a chair on his right-hand side and attracted most of his attention. He was meditating deeply on the Middle East, where he is intent on reorganizing the rearward services, and on Lord Beaverbrook who is proving particularly troublesome...While he brooded on these matters, he kept up a running conversation with the cat, cleaning its eyes with his napkin, offering it mutton and expressing regret that it could not have cream in war-time.”

Another Chartwell tabby named “Mickey” almost caused tensions in London, recounted William Manchester, a Churchill biographer. The prime minister was speaking on the phone to the Lord Chancellor when Mickey began playing with the telephone cord. Churchill shouted, “Get off the line, you fool!” Realizing his mistake he turned his attention back to the Lord Chancellor: “Not you!” he said.

Later, wrote Manchester, “he offered the cat his apologies, which he never extends to human beings, cajoling the pet, cooing, ‘Don’t you love me anymore?’ and proudly telling his valet at breakfast the next day, ‘My Mickey came to see me this morning. All is forgiven.’”

The Prime Minister’s best-known cat during the war was a big grey named “Nelson.” During a dinner, the American war correspondent, Quentin Reynolds, recorded Churchill as saying: “Nelson is the bravest cat I ever knew. I once saw him chase a huge dog out of the Admiralty. I decided to adopt him and name him after our great Admiral…” Reynolds continued: “Churchill scarcely mentioned the war. Our first course was smoked salmon and twice, when Mrs. Churchill was not looking, the Prime Minister sneaked pieces of salmon to Nelson.”

Silly stories circulated that Nelson sat in with Churchill at Cabinet meetings. Not really, though he may have wandered in occasionally. Always his admirer, Churchill told a colleague that Nelson was doing more than he was for the war effort, since Nelson served as a “prime ministerial hot water bottle”.

For Sir Winston’s 88th birthday in November 1962, Sir John Colville gave him a ginger cat with a white chest and paws. Named “Jock,” the cat became a favorite, often found on Churchill’s lap. Churchill took Jock to his London home at Hyde Park Gate when he traveled there from Chartwell.

This cat was so special that he is even seen sitting on Churchill’s knee in his grandson Winston’s wedding album. In frail health and using a cane, Churchill visited the House of Commons for the last time in July 1964. He was photographed leaving his London home for Parliament. In the foreground of the photo was Jock. The original Jock was only two when Churchill died in 1965, he stayed at Chartwell until his death at age 13 in 1974 and is now buried in the pet cemetery there. In compliance with Churchill’s wishes, the National Trust - which inherited Chartwell in 1966 after his death - has since acquired ginger cats called Jock II through VI. The public has loved them all, as well as the tradition started by their famous benefactor.

Fundraiser this Sat., March 29: Almost Home has one big fundraiser each year. Besides placing homeless pets, Almost Home provides a remarkable community outreach program in Wyandanch called “Training Wheels” that has improved the quality of life of Pits “sentenced” to an outdoor life on a chain. Their free spay/neuter program with pick-up and delivery has had a significant impact on the number of Pit puppies born in the Town of Babylon.

To finance this important work, Almost Home is having a huge Chinese Auction at the Elks Lodge, 120 Edgewood Ave, in Smithtown on March 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Up to 200 prizes include golf and an overnight at Oheka Castle for four, tickets to a Billy Joel concert at MSG, to the Broadway hits-Phantom and Once, tickets to the NY Philharmonic, Jet Blue tickets, Engeman Theater tickets, over 100 gift certificates, 75 gift baskets and so much more. $3.00 admission for adults includes several raffle tickets. For more information or directions, call 631- 627- 3665 or visit www.almosthomeLI.org.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9271) Lamar St: “Pepper” 14-123 was an Almost Home client until her home burned down this month. She witnessed the horror from her chain in the yard. This sweet dog deserves a break after her rough life. Used to breed, she now has multiple mammary masses and is heartworm positive. She needs a comfy bed to spend the rest of her days. “Miracle” 4-32 was found as a bag of bones and nursed back to health by the shelter vet and staff. This sweet orange tabby girl is not seeking a Chartwell retreat, just someone to love.

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