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Humphrey retires as mouser for Britain’s prime ministers

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He stalked the corridors of power for almost a decade - seeing off two British prime ministers, receiving telegrams from the White House and surviving the disapproval of Cherie Blair.

But No. 10 Downing St. - Prime Minister Tony Blair's official residence - was left reeling Thursday night by the dramatic resignation that everybody expected but few wanted: that of Humphrey the cat.In time-honored political fashion, the veteran backroom operator, who arrived in Downing Street as a stray in 1989 and rose to become the official government mouser, cited ill-health as the reason for his retirement. The official statement said he plans to enjoy the peace and quiet of life in an undisclosed London suburb away from the hubbub of No. 10.

But rumors persisted Thursday that the disdain of the prime minister's wife had finally done it for the 11-year-old moggy.

In a scandal that almost rocked the Blair government's first days in office, it was claimed in May that the cat would be ousted along with outgoing Prime Minister John Major and his family because Cherie Blair found him "unhygienic." For the public, this was one sweeping change too far.

Ever sensitive to the prevailing mood, Labor's rapid rebuttal machine persuaded Britain's first lady to pose with the first feline in her arms outside No. 10 to confirm their uneasy truce.

Two months later, fears arose again for Humphrey's safety after he disappeared. He returned safe and sound three weeks later - a woman had mistaken him for a stray in St. James's Park and taken him home.