Prairie Politics

Meet the ‘first cat of Kansas,’ the political pet that’s taking social media by storm

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Frances as the first gubernatorial cat to live at Cedar Crest. Gov. Robert Docking (1967-1975) had multiple cats at Cedar Crest, including Smiley the alley-cat, Phoebe the calico and Sam the Maine Coon.

There’s one political figure in Topeka who is friends with everyone on both sides of the aisle.

People smile when they see her.

She goes out of her way to meet new people.

And the only scandal she ever finds herself in comes when she claws the furniture.

She’s Gov. Laura Kelly’s cat, Frances the short-haired calico — and she’s quickly becoming a social-media celebrity.

With her 800-plus Twitter followers, she already has more online clout than a good number of Kansas’ state representatives.

She’s had the account since April.

“You know how long it took me to get to 800 followers?” Kelly quipped.

Other governors around the country have internet-famous pets as well — notably North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s family of cats and dogs (known on Facebook as the “First Pets of North Carolina”).

In Kansas, Frances rules the roost at Cedar Crest, the historic 1928-built mansion that’s been home to all of the state’s governors since 1962.

Kelly adopted Frances about eight years ago.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly with her cat, Frances, the “First Cat of Kansas.” Lauren Fitzgerald Courtesy photo

It’s taken Frances a while to adjust to the 6,000-square-foot mansion and the acres of land on which it sits, Kelly said, though she “loves every minute of it.”

She’s an indoor-outdoor cat, though she spends more time lounging in the former as of late.

“(Before becoming governor), we lived in a neighborhood where houses were really close together, and she sort of ruled the sidewalk and was there to greet all the kids strolling by,” Kelly said. “Cedar Crest is set on a lot of land, and there’s a lot of wildlife up here. I think she sensed that, so it took her a while to feel comfortable wandering out the front door.”

Though she’s fairly agreeable to being picked up and toted around, Frances has never accompanied Kelly to work at the Capitol — which has had a no-pet policy in place since 2000.

“I’m sure that I could get an exemption for the First Cat, but I’m not sure I want to exercise that,” Kelly said. “It can and will be used against me should I be spending my time playing with my cat in the office.”

So perhaps appropriately, Frances just lets the politicians come to her.

Kelly, like many past governors, regularly invited lawmakers to Cedar Crest during the legislative session — and during those visits, “Frances was a huge hit.”

“In fact, she sparked this conversation between a senator and myself — he’s from the other side of the aisle, but he was so captured by Frances that he then took out his phone to show me pictures of his cat,” Kelly said. “We ended up having maybe one of the very first personal communications I’ve ever had with this particular senator.

“She is a good icebreaker.”

Despite enjoying the security of the Kansas Highway Patrol at Cedar Crest, Kelly said “knowing that that ferocious cat is lingering around the front door makes me feel safe and sound.”

After all, being governor can be a pretty stressful job.

That’s where a pet like Frances comes in handy.

“Cats are a little different personality than dogs — they’re not really a huge source of comfort to you, particularly someone like Frances who is extraordinarily independent and really does what she wants to do when she wants to do it,” Kelly said. “But she amuses me because of her independence. I like the way she struts around and claims her territory.

“It’s a good distraction.”

When asked about her role as a high-powered Topeka insider with a direct line to Gov. Kelly, Frances declined comment.

You can find Frances on Twitter @FirstCatofKS — or in person at Cedar Crest, 1 SW Cedar Crest Road in Topeka, which is open for free, public tours from 1:30-3:30 p.m. every Monday.

People interested in Cedar Crest tours are encouraged to call 785-296-3636 to reserve a time.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.