First pet-elect Socks will scamper into the White House on little cat's paws

Soon, they'll be packing up Millie Bush's monogrammed dog bed, wrapping the Waterford crystal dog bowl and banning rawhide from the Oval Office.

Not a moment too soon for some folks.


The Democrats aren't the only ones itching for a change after 12 years of Republicans in the White House. Horrified cat lovers watched as Lucky and Rex Reagan, and C. Fred and Millie Bush mugged for the national press and muddied the White House carpets.

Now, ailurophiles -- those are cat lovers -- are purring because on Jan. 20, when Bill Clinton is sworn in, cats will take back the White House.


The next first pet is Socks, the first cat in the White House since Jimmy Carter's Siamese.

"I have a feeling Socks is going to sock it to the White House," said cat breeder Lorraine Saunders of San Clemente, Calif. "I'm hoping this will mean something for cats in general."

Nothing personal, and nothing political, mind you, but cat lovers say good riddance to the Bushes, with their penchant for doe-eyed spaniels.

"People that have dogs like things that are dependent upon them and in some ways subservient to them," Ms. Saunders said.

Some political pundits say Mr. Clinton is a promise-anything smooth talker desperate to be liked by all.

His cat-owner status suggests otherwise, said Cat Fanciers Association executive director Tom Dent.

"People who own cats are self-assured," Mr. Dent said. "They don't feel insecure if the animal doesn't respond the way other pets might. We'll have folks [in the White House] that feel good about themselves."

Millie's got a pedigree, but Socks is "not a fine breed of cat" such as Persian or Siamese, said Ann McCoy, administrator of the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Ark.


Socks is a domestic short-hair, the cat version of a mutt. She's black, with white paws and a white face. Ms. McCoy said the cat's a favorite at the mansion.

"We all like the cat, even people who don't usually like cats," she said. "It's a dear cat, very playful."

But can a cat match Millie's social flair? Millie entranced everyone from Queen Elizabeth to tennis star Bjorn Borg. She mingled with Dan Aykroyd, Margaret Thatcher and Diane Sawyer. Her autobiography topped the New York Times Best Seller List.

Socks may prove to be a ham as well. During Mr. Clinton's first televised speech as president-elect from Little Rock, a reporter noted that "the mansion cat -- Socks, who is black with white feet -- scampered behind him."

She'll have to bone up on White House protocol because White House pets that don't toe the line find themselves in deep doo doo.

Nancy Reagan seemed persnickety to some when she ousted Lucky the sheep dog for pulling too hard on the leash.


But the common-folk Carters also booted a pet -- Grits, a mutt who liked to chase Amy's cat. Franklin Roosevelt's Scottish terrier Meggie was banished after she bit a New York Times reporter on the nose.

Millie survived the full term, though photos in "Millie's Book" show her brazenly shedding on satin White House furniture. In her autobiography, she also admitted chasing squirrels on the White House lawn.

"Well, what's wrong with chasing squirrels?" asked dog breeder Dorothy Hicks of Cypress, Calif. "That's what dogs do."

Ms. Saunders says cats suit presidents better. "I have the feeling the animal will adapt beautifully and not hurt 1 inch of that priceless furniture, because cats do not lift their legs," Ms. Saunders said.

Wrong, Ms. Hicks insists.

"Don't let her kid you that the cat won't lift her leg around the White House," Ms. Hicks said. "Because, believe me, cats spray, and when they spray, you'd better get out of the way."


Luckily for the Clintons, both allergic to cats, the White House is nearly sneeze-proof, said Ms. Saunders, who also is allergic.

"I've been in the White House, and it's mostly marble floors except upstairs, where they have these fabulous throw rugs," she said. "Of course, cats do like to dive into rugs."