It’s known as the cat room—an upstairs space at 24 Sussex filled with scratching posts, toys, kibble, water, litter and kittens. The RCMP has a code name for visitors. “They announce us to the main house by saying, ‘Your victims have arrived,’ ” said Jim Armour, a lobbyist and former communications director for Stephen Harper who adopted two kittens after visiting the room.
“There are a lot of us,” he added. “The RCMP officers and staff aren’t immune either. Apparently, many of them are the proud owners of Ottawa Humane Society kittens.”
Laureen Harper has fostered more than 200 cats for the OHS and has brought neighbours, friends and many with political connections to the cat room. She is particularly adept at moving the kittens two at a time. “It’s next to impossible to only leave with one,” said Armour. “Laureen is so good that when we went, there were four kittens ready for adoption and I felt that I drove a hard bargain by only leaving with two.”
Conservative MP Mark Adler went home with a single cat, but just barely. “My kids wanted a second kitten and it wasn’t an easy decision to only leave with just one.”
The Prime Minister’s wife, who shares Stephen Harper’s love of cats, has also convinced cabinet ministers to adopt from their local shelters.
“I didn’t get a foster cat from ‘the room’, but I did take her advice on getting two cats to keep each other company,” said Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who adopted kittens at a picnic for a local humane society in her riding. “Laureen convinced me to get cats for my sons. They wanted a pet and I was thinking of a dog.”
Julie Vaux, chief of staff to Health Minister Rona Ambrose, fell for a kitten at a function hosted by the Harpers this fall, as did her partner, Neil Brodie, chief of staff to Tony Clement, president of the treasury board. “We met her at a garden party at 24 Sussex and had her home two days later.”
It’s not just cats. Jason MacDonald, the prime minister’s communications director, adopted a guinea pig from the PM’s residence. His daughters came up with the name. “They said, ‘Well, it comes from Mrs. Harper and lived at 24 Sussex so obviously we should name it Harper.’ ”