Mexico gives 19 cats roaming presidential palace food and care fur-ever

By AP   April 7, 2024 | 11:04 pm PT
Mexico gives 19 cats roaming presidential palace food and care fur-ever
Veterinarian Jesus Arias greets Ollin in one a National Palace courtyard, in Mexico City, Thursday, March 4, 2024. Ollin is one of 19 palace cats that have made history after the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared them to be "living fixed assets", the first animals in Mexico to receive the title. Photo by AP
They prowl through palace gardens stalking pigeons and make cameos on televised press briefings. Some greet tourists at the doors, while others take a sneaky lick of ice cream from staff.

Nineteen feral cats have free rein of Mexico's National Palace, long roaming the lush gardens and historic colonial halls of the most iconic buildings in the country.

"They have access to every part of the palace, so they walk in on meetings, interviews and wander onto camera," said Jesús Arias, the palace veterinarian, as a handful of feline friends brush against his ankles.

Now, the palace cats have made hiss-tory after the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obradordeclared them to be "living fixed assets," the first animals in Mexico to receive the title.

The investment term "fixed assets" usually applies to buildings and furniture, but by applying it to cats, López Obrador's government has obligated the country’s Treasury to give them food and care for them for the rest of their lives, even after the leader leaves office in October.

"The cats are now a symbol of the National Palace. Just as we understand this world, I wouldn’t understand the National Palace without the presence of these cats," said Adriana Castillo Román, general director of the National Palace and Cultural Heritage Conservancy. "We have to make sure the cats are taken care of."

Nestled in the heart of Mexico City, the presidential palace has long been the seat of Mexico's executive branch. Now the residence of López Obrador, it is built upon the former palace of Indigenous Emperor Moctezuma. Ironically, Moctezuma's ancient Aztec culture honored not cats, but hairless dogs known as Xoloitzcuintle, who were even buried with their masters.

But these days, López Obrador is accompanied by Bowie, Bellof, Nube, Coco, Yema, Ollin, Balam and more, who seem to have found a purr-fect home in the building. López Obrador himself has said the cats "dominate" the palace and often walk in front of him during official ceremonies.

Some are named after artists, like an orange tabby "Bowie" named after the rockstar David Bowie, who visited the palace 1997 to see the famous mural by Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Others are named after native rocks or words in the region’s ancient Aztec language, like Ollin, which means "movement."

Staff say they remember the feral cats living among the cacti and dense brush of the gardens as far back as 50 years ago.

But it’s unclear when they first appeared or how they even got into the building. While 19 live in the building full time, many more come and go, and staff suspect they slip under a small crack in the palace gate by night.

One cat named Zeus, who has since passed away, even became famous in July when he meandered into the president's morning press briefing. The gray cat stood in front of cameras and wandered among reporters until palace staff had to carry him off.

To avoid a cat-astrophe, Castillo said the government had to ask reporters to stop feeding Zeus because he would spend his days accepting treats from different people around the palace and was "getting really fat."

Nineteen cats living on the grounds of Mexico's National Palace were declared 'living fixed assets' of the government. Cozying up to palace staff and making cameos on televised news briefings, the animals have long been a fixture of the gardens and offices of the colonial-style building. Video by AP

When López Obrador first took office in 2018, Castillo said the palace pets were being fed quietly by employees.

"Some employees that like cats would bring them leftovers from home and, every once in a while, canned food or rice and soup," Castillo said.

Palace staff worked with vets from the National Autonomous University of Mexico to vaccinate, sterilize and chip the cats, and build them little cat homes and feeding stations around the garden. They also hired Arias to take care of them on a permanent basis and give them a good life.

Neither Bowie, Coco or Ollin commented when asked how they feel about being "living fixed assets." Coco swished his tail, while Ollin stretched out below a palace pillar and fell asleep.

"Meow," responded Nube, a gray cat named after the Spanish word for "cloud" who enjoys greeting visitors at the door of the palace.

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