In October 2017, New Zealand prime minister Jacina Ardern’s pet cat Paddles was mowed down by a car in the street and killed. This was big news at the time, on account of the fact that Ardern had become prime minister just a month earlier, and Paddles, by extension, had become the first ever “First Cat of New Zealand”. Also, Paddles was polydactyl, meaning she had more toes than the average cat, and people seemed to like that about her. Paddles had become, however fleetingly, something of a global celebrity—and her untimely death made headlines around the world.
That was two years ago, and the person responsible for running over the First Cat of New Zealand has mostly remained a mystery—until now. Ardern’s neighbour, Chris, has stepped forward and admitted that he was the one who killed Paddles on that fateful day in the mid-spring of 2017: hitting the cat with his car near Ardern’s Point Chevalier home in Auckland.
Chris, who lived a few doors down from Ardern at the time, told Stuff.co.nz that he’d ducked home during his lunch break to pick up his laptop and, while he was reversing out of his driveway, backed his car into Paddles. Chris said he initially thought Paddles was okay, as he’d seen her run off from the accident—and while he was looking around the neighbourhood trying to locate her, Ardern’s next door neighbour emerged and asked if he needed help.
Chris told the woman that he’d hit a ginger cat, and the woman said, “That's my neighbour's cat”, he recalls. "I pointed at [Ardern's] house and said: 'Not this neighbour!'" They found Paddles shortly thereafter, lying dead behind a fence. She could not be revived.
"I went back to work and tried to gather myself,” Chris said. “Later in the afternoon, I popped back to the neighbour's house and she said Paddles hadn't survived. But Clarke [Jacinda’s husband] was home.
"I went over and knocked on the door and Clarke came out. He was really nice and said, 'Look, it could have happened to anyone'. He was clearly very upset."
Chris wrote a condolence card, and a short while later Ardern called his phone and left a voicemail message. “She basically rang up to say 'Sorry you had to go through that, thank you for stopping by and thanks for the card',” Chris said. "It was extremely nice of her to take time out of her day to check that I was okay for running over her cat."
This is the first time Chris has spoken out and publicly admitted to killing Paddles. Reflecting on the incident, he described it as “kind of shocking”.
“I felt fairly bad because I knew a bit of the back story, I knew Paddles had some kind of social media presence and had an extra toe,” he said. "I was also aware that to Jacinda and Clarke, Paddles was their fur baby at that point that they loved, so I was pretty gutted. But I obviously later found out they were pregnant so that made me feel a bit better that I didn't take out the only one thing that they loved."
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