Categories: working cats

It is Time for the Prime Minister of the UK to Manage Her Working Cats

The popular and efficient working cats at the Prime Minister’s offices at Number 10 Downing Street and at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are fighting. It has happened before and today I read in the newspaper that they have got into a rather nasty fight in which Palmerston (the cat at the Foreign Office) suffered some nasty scratches inflicted by Larry who patrols Number 10 Downing Street. Both are rat catching rescue cats adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. They were carefully selected for their mousing skills. There is, by the way, a genuine rat problem in Downing Street so these are genuine working cat.

Larry and Palmerston fighting recently. Photo: STEVE BACK.

In addition, there is a new cat on the block, Gladstone, whose job it is to patrol Her Majesty’s Treasury. The trouble is this, Larry and Palmerston are fighting and it has become a little bit nasty. They are territorial animals and their territories are overlapping. I don’t know the pedigree of these cats. They are quite possibly domesticated semi-feral cats but I doubt it. They are certainly outdoor cats by trade by which I mean they are used to being outdoors a lot of the time, which by the way is necessary in this instance if they are to carry out their duties effectively.

I think it’s time to consider rehoming perhaps both Larry and Palmerston to a nice homes in the countryside where they can roam more safely, have extended ranges without competition and stop getting into fights which may lead to a serious injury.

In their place I would suggest domestic cats who were less likely to fight. The tricky question is what sort of kitties fit the bill. Well, firstly, the home ranges of female cats are quite a lot smaller than those of male cats. By “home range” I mean the territory which a cat patrols and which he/she calls his own.

As mentioned, Palmerston lives at the Foreign Office and Larry lives at Number 10 Downing St.. These properties are close and separated by Downing Street (see Google map below – if you enlarge it by one click you’ll see the Foreign Office). As a consequence, it may be difficult to allow each cat to enjoy non-overlapping home ranges. But I would hope (depending on the individual cat) that they are sufficiently apart for the cats to find home ranges that don’t overlap or if they did to compromise.

I would have thought it beneficially – if it is possible and practical – to adopt two female cats who perhaps ideally are related and/or who came from a colony of semi-domestic feral cats. When female cats in a colony live together they are non-aggressive towards each other. The point I am trying to get at is the government needs to find two cats who know each other and who are not aggressive towards each other but who at the same time are efficient rat catchers.

Actually, I don’t think these working cats needs to be super-efficient rat catchers. I say this because their presence deters rats. They don’t need to actually catch rats. They need to deter their presence and therefore I would have thought at this stage that the criteria for the selection of replacement cats would be that they get along.

We don’t want to see either Larry or Palmerston and indeed Gladstone (at the Treasury) when he enters upon this scenario, becoming hurt as a result of a hard fight. That may have an amusing aspect but on a more serious side if one of the cats was hurt it would send out a signal to the cat loving population of Great Britain that the government is unable to properly manage their working cats. At the moment the cats are a positive public relations exercise. They give the government a face, a friendly face, a cat loving face which appeals to many people. However, should one of them become seriously hurt then the cats would turn into bad publicity for the government.

Adjustments have been made in the past. Before 2014 Freya was the then Chancellor’s cat living at Number 11 as I recall but she had the habit of wandering too far, jeopardising her safety and so she was sent to Kent where it is safer to roam.

To briefly return to female cats living in a group. Females in a group are unanimously hostile to outside females but within the group they show distinct friendships or preferences for the company of other females. This information is taken from a very well-known book and indicates to me that two females who have been domesticated from a colony of cats and living adjacent buildings in central London would have a greater chance of getting along than male cats who have never known each other and who are fiercely territorial.

Another possibility would be cats who are more home loving. Gentle female cats might be better. The government does not want cats who are too interested in roaming far and wide. For one thing these cats are automatically in danger from road traffic. The British government is right slap bang in the middle of London, a very busy place for traffic.

My point is that the criteria for selection of government working cats was perhaps incorrect being too focused on rat catching leading to the selection of strong-minded male cats. More gentle cats will do the task as well by simply being there.

If anybody has some good ideas on how the British government can better manage their working cats at the heart of government then I would be most pleased if you leave a comment.

Article on the government’s working cats.



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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • If they bring in females to substitute, they could be named Maggie and Theresa! Can't resist sharing an amusing incident that happened recently -- an unfortunate mouse found its way into our home and encountered several of our indoor-only cats. They were simply watching when our very elderly Pawlette got up, dispatched the mouse with one bite, and instantly devoured it -- all within about 30 seconds. She looked around as if to say "that's how it's done" and returned to her nap.

  • Is responding to your earlier post about these working cats I asked if Larry & Palmerston are neutered. If not, that would surely go a long way toward explaining their tendency to fight. However, it is said that males make better hunters if left intact -- do you agree?

    • Yes, they are neutered and yes intact males make better hunters but....I don't think we need excellent hunters, just a cat living in the area to deter rats. We need cats that get along ;) .

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