Socks still rocks

Former First Cat fits in public appearances between naps, keeping an eye on election coverage

Friday, June 6, 2008

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Staff photos by REID SILVERMAN
Betty Currie cuddles Socks, former First Cat from the Clinton administration, last Wednesday afternoon at her home in Hollywood.

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Socks lives.

Betty Currie is dismayed that so many people assume otherwise. However, it is one of the first comments people make when she and the former First Cat go out for a public appearances.

‘‘’I didn’t know Socks was still alive,’ is the first thing they say,” Currie said, grimacing, at her Hollywood home last Wednesday. Despite the cat’s advanced age — he is close to 19 years old — Currie can hardly talk about the inevitable. She is his biggest fan.

And the feeling appears to be mutual.

Socks lies on the back deck of the Currie home and nuzzles Currie’s toes with his nose and face as she grooms him to prepare him for photos. Her attention is one of the only things that has roused him from his determination to nap.

Currie has taken care of Socks, the cat owned by President Bill Clinton’s family, since the Clintons left the White House in 2001. During Socks’ eight years in Washington, D.C., he became an international celebrity as one of the Clinton’s pets. And his reported conflicts with Buddy, the chocolate Labrador retriever that joined the household during those years, are the stuff of legend. The press had a field day with the troubled relationship, comparing President Clinton’s inability to handle the cat and dog fights with Clinton’s struggles to bring peace to the Middle East.

When President Clinton left office, he let Currie, his private secretary and one of Socks’ best friends in the office, take the cat home. He has been cared for by Betty and Bob Currie ever since.

Since then, Bettie Currie and Socks have kept busy with a schedule of public appearances. ‘‘He doesn’t seem to mind,” Currie said.

Just this past year, they have visited Fisher House, a Ronald McDonald-type house for military families, at Andrews Air Force Base. Socks was a special guest of the St. Mary’s County Animal Welfare League’s animal fair last month and will participate in National Dog Day at Solomons Island in August. He also has participated in career days at area schools among other appearances.

Barbara Whipkey, president of SMAWL, the organization that hosted the recent animal fair, said Socks has been a regular participant in the annual event. ‘‘Every year he’s a grand marshal,” Whipkey said of Socks’ role in the event’s parade. ‘‘He rode in the back of a convertible with Betty right beside him.”

Socks’ celebrity status has been a boon to SMAWL as they’ve worked to establish the event. He’s a big draw. He is, yes,” Whipkey said. ‘‘He’s still doing good ... It just goes to show what love and good care can do for a kitty.”

His health isn’t what it used to be, however. Socks has a thyroid condition and has experienced some hair loss, which is related to the condition. His once-thick black hair is noticeably thinning, especially along his back. And he is showing early signs of kidney problems. He drinks a great deal of water now, so the Curries have set out little bowls of water throughout their house to better accommodate him.

He’s also lost weight. ‘‘And we’re a little concerned,” Currie said, looking down at the lounging cat. ‘‘It’s age.”

People visiting with Socks have also noticed the change. ‘‘They used to say he was too fat,” Currie said. ‘‘They don’t do that anymore.” He used to weigh about 14 pounds. Now his weight is closer to 10 pounds, a 25 percent loss from his prime.

But none of this concerns the cat with the super-cool disposition.

Originally discovered as a homeless kitten in Little Rock, Ark., Socks was adopted by Chelsea Clinton and taken to live in the governor’s mansion in that state, then on to the White House in Washington, D.C., for eight years.

What looks like the final stop in his journey is a beautiful waterfront home in St. Mary’s County. It hasn’t been a bad life.

‘‘He adjusted and likes it here,” Currie said. ‘‘It’s safe for a cat to walk around.”

That was not so during the White House years. For his own protection, Socks had to be on a leash when he was outdoors when he lived in Washington, D.C.

It cramped his style.

In addition to the freedom and ambiance of his waterfront home, Socks’ twilight years are being filled with a little bit of excitement lately, with Sen. Hillary Clinton running for the office her husband once held.

Currie, interpreting for Socks, said he is enthralled by the possibility of the Clintons returning to the White House, whether in the president’s office or that of the vice president. The Curries have the news on 24 hours a day, she said, and Socks keeps half an eye on the election news updates.

‘‘He is a Demo-cat,” Currie says of Socks’ political affiliation. ‘‘But he maintains his independence ... as cats do.”

Currie said, however, that Socks doesn’t put too much stock in the primaries. He’s more interested in the actual election.

This was an attitude, she said, that Socks picked up from his former owner. ‘‘He learned from the master, Bill Clinton,” she said.

Despite the grinding pace of the primary, Hillary Clinton has had time to remember the laid-back, black-and-white cat now surveying the Currie’s back yard. Currie spoke to Hillary Clinton less than a month ago when they were both at an event in Washington. She still asks about Socks. ‘‘Oh, sure,” Currie said. ‘‘She said ‘I’d love to see him.’”

He’s that kind of cat. His sense of noblesse oblige leads him to interrupt his naps and his survey of his back yard to visit with the public. His dignified and low-key personality allows him to graciously share his space on the deck with the Curries and any guests they choose to invite. And the neighbors in his Hollywood neighborhood are familiar with the networking cat, who likes to visit those nearby.

He’s a cat who is at peace with himself and his place in the world.

He’s even won the somewhat grudging affection of Bob Currie, who says he’s not really a fan of cats.

‘‘He really has a nice personality,” Bob said. ‘‘He’s really smart.”

Like both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Bob is allergic to cats. For Bob, too much exposure to cats causes ‘‘sneezing, coughing, his eyes to get swollen,” he said, especially when Socks gets up on the Curries’ bed and curls up on one of Bob’s shirts, just for instance.

The cat ‘‘lives better than I do,” Bob says as he looks down at Socks lying on his shirt, not seeming to mind that much.