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The Clintons Bid Farewell to Socks the Cat

02/20/2009 at 04:20 PM EST

The Clintons Bid Farewell to Socks the Cat
Socks, the Clinton family cat
Marcy Nighswander/AP
Former First Cat Socks, one of the world’s most famous felines, died Friday at the age of 20 after battling throat cancer since November. A stray cat rescued by the Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, Socks lived in the governor’s mansion in Arkansas and later moved with the family to the White House.

"Socks brought much happiness to Chelsea and us over the years, and enjoyment to kids and cat lovers everywhere," the Clintons said in a statement, released first to PEOPLE.COM. "We're grateful for those memories, and we especially want to thank our good friend, Betty Currie, for taking such loving care of Socks for so many years."

Currie, the president's personal secretary, and her husband, Bob, took over care of Socks after the Clintons left the White House. It was near their home in Maryland that Socks was put to sleep Friday morning. "He could no longer stand and wasn’t eating," according to family friend and presidential historian Barry Landau.

His Pal Buddy the Lab

Though much was made of the fact that Buddy, the family’s beloved brown Labrador retriever – who died after being hit by a car in 2002 – remained with the Clintons while Socks did not, Landau says, "The truth be known, Betty asked if Socks could come live with her. The Clintons didn’t abandon Socks. They were totally conflicted. It broke their hearts, but they knew it would be the right thing for Socks’ welfare.”

"Betty had lost a close family member and a dog and they wanted to do something nice for her," continues Landau, noting that Hillary Clinton had just been elected to the U.S. Senate.

The Clintons Bid Farewell to Socks the Cat| Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton with Socks in 1999

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

During the family's days in the White House, Socks had become attached to Betty, with whom he spent many hours every day. "Socks was always curled up on a blue striped silk chair, next to Betty," in her office outside the Oval Office, Landau says. "Socks didn’t act like a cat. Socks was very dog-like, and Buddy and Socks got along well.” Landau adds that even visiting heads of state asked to have pictures taken with the cat.

A Taste for Chicken

In the years since he left the White House, Landau says, "Socks had an incredible life. Betty cooked for Socks," he said, noting the cat loved chicken. He was also the subject (along with the family dog) of a book by Hillary Clinton titled Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.

On Thursday, Currie took Socks for one last walk; she plans to have the cat cremated.

Leave your condolences for the Clintons at PEOPLE Pets

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