From time to time, living in Ottawa, when I'm downtown and have some free time on my hands, I'll go up to Parliament Hill, and walk the grounds. The hill is set high above the Ottawa River, and affords some of the best views in the area. It's dotted with statues of Prime Ministers, fathers of Confederation, and historical figures. On the west side, near a rise where the statues of Prime Minister Pearson and Queen Victoria reside, is something else entirely. It's a collection of sturdy shelters which serves as the home of a colony of cats.
These stray cats have been looked after by many years. The cat sanctuary started in the seventies by a woman named Irene Desmoreaux. After her death, Rene Chartrand took up the mantle and erected the shelters above (that's him in the picture). He's retired now, and a team of volunteers tend to the cats, who have it made. Good shelter, plenty of food, and lots of space to stroll about.
They can often be seen on the grounds of Parliament Hill, and are fairly friendly. Apparently they're also allowed into the buildings to tackle mice, though I remain rather dubious of their mousing skills, what with the fact that they can often be seen allowing squirrels to eat from their dishes, and let's face it... to a cat, a squirrel isn't that much different then a mouse.
Don't believe me?
I told you. And the raccoons that live on the slopes down below often turn up for a meal too. They get along quite well with the cats.
The Cat Sanctuary has become very popular with the tourists, and with people like me who live here and occasionally pay the Hill a visit. The cats are always about, lording over their domain. Cats, after all, do run the world, you know...
That brings us to the second part of today's blog. In doing research on my work in progress, Ten Downing Street came up. The home of the British Prime Minister interested me, as some of the scenes in the book take place there. During the research, I came across a curiousity: The Chief Mouser To The Cabinet Office.
For decades, it's been a tradition that a cat lives at Ten Downing, and it's still upheld today. The cat is "employed", and so belongs to the house, rather then as a pet of the PM's family (or to be precise, owner of the PM and their family, like I said, cats rule the world). The current holder of the title is a former stray named Larry, who, as fate would have it, has his own website. The title is mostly informal, but the cat stays even if the leader in question leaves office.
I loved the notion of a chief mouser, and so I've written it into the book. Here are a couple of examples:
The group paused, and Sabra spoke. “What in the..?”
Claire looked back to see what the matter was. A tan and grey cat paused at the doorway in the corridor, looking up at the newcomers. Sabra was looking down at it, her expression puzzled, as if she would not have expected to see an animal here. “That’s Fox. She’s the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet,” Claire explained with a straight face.
Sabra looked back at her, shaking her head. “You’re kidding.”
“I don’t speak lightly of the Chief Mouser.” The cat moved on.
“I’d comment on it, but the White House always has pets,” Stryker added.
She felt movement at her lower leg, and looked down, saw the Chief Mouser rubbing against her leg, passing by, softly purring. “Hello, Fox,” she called, as the cat trotted down the corridor. At least all’s well in her world, Claire thought with a smile.