Foreign Office staff have been issued with a strict set of protocols to follow as the department’s chief mouser, Palmerston, returns to work after a period of “stress leave”.
The FCO cat has been absent from his King Charles Street home in Whitehall since July, sparking rumours about possible ill health or retirement.
But in a surprise announcement yesterday, permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald revealed that Palmerston had been put on temporary leave after he was found to be “over-grooming” because of stress.
Too many treats, an overwhelmingly large territory and intrusions on his personal space were among the reasons given for the much-loved feline’s distress.
Palmerston was taken in by one of McDonald’s assistant private secretaries to recuperate, the Foreign Office chief told staff.
“During his summer holiday, Cabinet ministers, colleagues and overseas visitors have asked me anxiously about his whereabouts,” McDonald wrote in a blog announcing Palmerston’s return to Whitehall this week.
“He is happy, healthy and full of energy. His pelt is glossy and mostly grown back. We need now to keep him that way,” he said.
The announcement came a month after the mouser’s official Diplomog Twitter account was forced to quash rumours that he was too ill to work, telling followers that “reports of my ill-health are false”.
McDonald urged staff to follow a new set of “Palmerston Protocols”, which ban anyone except the cat’s official volunteer carers from feeding him and tell staff to respect his personal space.
“We must remember why he needed a break, and change our behaviour towards him,” he said.
The rules also tell staff to allow the cat, who is named after the UK’s longest-serving foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, to choose whether or not to interact with staff in a newly-designated and smaller territory than before.
The Palmerston Protocols are designed to ensure my welfare and happiness in the FCO. My care is under constant review by a dedicated team of voluntary carers, who will be monitoring whether the Palmerston Protocols work. Mice - watch out! I’m coming back! (4/4)
— Palmerston (@DiploMog) December 2, 2019
McDonald explained: “Cats are territorial. They fret when their territory is bigger than they can manage.”
He told staff not to disturb Palmerston while he is sleeping. “He has full choice and control of who he deigns to greet or imperiously ignores,” the perm sec added.
Palmerston joined the FCO in 2016 from the rescue charity Battersea to control pests. As with all chief mousers in government, he is fed and cared for entirely by volunteers.
His colleagues include No.10 rival Larry, Treasury mascot Gladstone and Cabinet Office mother and son duo Evie and Ossie. Evie, who was adopted from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in 2016, was promoted in April to become the face of the Government Equalities Office.