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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A sad tail!

By far the saddest tale to emerge from the documents released today under the Freedom of Information Act is that of the Home Office cat, Peter. On 3 June 1929 a Treasury Official authorised the office keeper at the Home Office "to spend 1d a day from his petty cash towards the maintenance of an efficient office cat." In April 1932 the allowance was upped to 1s 6d a week.

By 1946, the official Home Office cat, now named Peter, had reached the age of 17 and memos were flying around questioning whether he could still catch mice and rats. One asked, "Our Treasury approval is for 'an efficient cat'. Are you able to certify that he is still efficient?" Despite assurances it was decided that he had outlived his usefulness and the heartless bastards put him to sleep at Home Office expense.

It is clear that the age of mass communication had not yet arrived. One has only to look at the fuss that was caused when Cherie Blair retired the Downing Street cat to see that putting down a perfectly healthy cat would be political suicide in today's climate. This is evidenced further by a later Home Office cat, a manx known as Peta.

Because her predecessor had featured on the Tonight programme in 1958 these cats had become public property. When staff complained she was not toilet trained and lazy and suggested she might be "put out to grass", a memo was issued ordering she must remain. The memo said that her appointment had been so public that she had gained "diplomatic status" and letting her go could result in adverse publicity. Peta later retired to the country home of a member of staff.

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