Thatcher friends recall her deep love of animals

The former prime minister once adopted a cat from a shelter after the death of her husband

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LONDON -- While she is most widely known for her political conservatism, the Iron Lady also had a soft side -- she loved animals.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher adopted an 8-year-old fluffy brown tabby cat from a nonprofit animal shelter, The Mayhew Animal Home, in Kensal Rise, North London. The adoption in 2007 followed the death of her husband, Denis, 88.

The cat had already been named Marvin by the animal shelter and Mrs. Thatcher liked it and decided to keep it.

Mrs. Thatcher would have liked to have had a dog earlier in her life, but both Denis and their son, Mark, did not care for animals, according to Robin Harris. He was Mrs. Thatcher's confidant and adviser for 30 years.

Mr. Harris made his remarks in an excerpt April 9 in London's Daily Mail from his upcoming book, "Not For Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher." The book is to be published by Bantam Press next week.

Mrs. Thatcher did not have any other pets, and Marvin was taken on by a close friend when the former prime minister became unable to care for him, said Sarah Dickinson, The Mayhew's media and communications manager. Mrs. Thatcher died last week at age 87 after suffering a stroke.

Mrs. Thatcher had to submit to a home visit prior to adopting the cat, just like anyone else, said Jean Andrews, who was supervisor of the animal rescue's cattery at the time and conducted the visit herself.

"We have to make sure the accommodations are right for the particular animal," said Ms. Andrews, who has worked at the shelter since August 1999 and serves as office manager and is in charge of student development.

Mrs. Thatcher's staff contacted The Mayhew about the former prime minister's wishes to adopt a cat and the facility was vetted by a security team before her visit in 2007. Mrs. Thatcher's staff and the shelter leaders discussed what kind of cat would be appropriate for the Thatcher household, which was busy and included a lot of foot traffic from security and staff.

"Marvin was a very confident cat," Ms. Andrews said. "We thought he'd do well there."

Mrs. Thatcher visited the facility shortly after the close of business one day and was quite taken with Marvin, who Ms. Andrews described as a "big bruiser of a tabby who liked to be fussed over and cuddled."

The shelter, which Marvin entered as a stray, has room for about 80 cats and kittens, as well as about 20 more in an indoor-outdoor garden setting. Those cats, who live out their years at The Mayhew, are not adoptable because they came from hoarding situations and are unsocialized and do not like to be touched.

A friend of Mrs. Thatcher's told London's Daily Mail after the adoption that she was "delighted" with the cat.

"She is quite lonely sometimes, but Marvin is a real distraction," the friend said. "She had thought of getting a dog, but exercising it would have posed security issues. And she thought a kitten would be a handful."

The shelter was pleased that Mrs. Thatcher chose to adopt a shelter cat who had been rescued, rather than buy a pet from a breeder, said Ms. Dickinson.

"How you feel about her politics is irrelevant; it was a good thing that she did," Ms. Dickinson said.

Mrs. Thatcher had become increasingly frail in recent years following a series of small strokes in 2001 and 2002. The former Conservative leader was staying in a suite at the Ritz hotel in London while recuperating from a minor operation when she died.

"One of the most upsetting things was the loss of her rescue cat, Marvin" whom she "adored," writes Barry Strevens, the longest serving member of Mrs. Thatcher's personal protection force, in a piece published April 14 in the Daily Mail. "He would sit by her chair waiting for the endless flow of tidbits, but in the end, he had to go as people were frightened of her tripping over him. Some friends have said that in time she had no recollection Marvin had ever existed, but I distinctly remember her asking for him."

It was unclear exactly when Mrs. Thatcher gave Marvin up.

Carla Powell, married to Charles Powell, the former private secretary and adviser on foreign affairs to Margaret Thatcher, told Anorak, a British publication, that Mrs. Thatcher "adored" animals.

Mrs. Powell, who names her animals after friends and distinguished people, has a Dachshund named Maggie and a goose named Margaret Thatcher. Mrs. Thatcher especially loved Maggie, said Mrs. Powell, of London and Lazio, Italy.

Mr. Powell was one of the last people to see Mrs. Thatcher before she died last week. Mrs. Powell posted on her Facebook page a 60-second video of a litter of Dachshund puppies playing at her home that Mr. Powell showed to the former prime minister.

Mrs. Powell wrote on Facebook: "This film of my puppies was shown to Lady Thatcher by my husband on Sunday night [April 7] and brought her last smile." The film is currently posted on YouTube at

"She used to come and spend some time with us in the Sabine Hills [in Italy] and she adored playing with my many animals, especially puppies and kittens," Mrs. Powell wrote on her Facebook page.


Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Tanya Irwin is a reporter for The Blade.


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