Analysis & Comment

Neighbour confesses to killing Paddles, the ‘first cat’ of New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern‘s neighbour, Chris, didn’t mean to kill the country’s most famous cat with his car. He was just trying to pick up the laptop he forgot at home.

Chris, known only by his first name, says he still regrets running over Paddles, the so-called “first cat” who had 11,000 Twitter followers at the time of her death in 2017. Chris explained the tragic circumstances of Paddles’ death in an interview with Stuff magazine this week, speaking on the condition that his last name remain anonymous.

“It was kind of shocking at first, and I felt fairly bad because I knew a bit of the backstory,” Chris told Stuff. “I knew Paddles had some kind of social media presence and had an extra toe.”

Paddles catapulted to internet fame after her owner was elected the first female prime minister of New Zealand in 2017.

Ardern’s social media team built a robust profile for her orange-and-white, extra-thumbed cat. “Paddles” often tweeted about animal adoption and had “conversations” with other cats on Twitter. “She” even garnered a profile in Vanity Fair shortly before her death.

Paddles’ death in November 2017 made headlines around the world.

Chris says he struck Paddles with his car after driving home to fetch his laptop for work. The cat darted in front of his vehicle, then ran away after the collision. He knew he’d struck a cat but he wasn’t sure if he’d killed it, so he started going door-to-door looking for the injured animal.

Eventually he spoke to Ardern’s next-door neighbour, who said she saw an injured orange cat cross her yard. The woman said the cat belonged to her neighbour.

“I pointed at (Ardern’s) house and said: ‘Not that neighbour!’” Chris said.

He found Paddles dead near the fence between the two properties.

Chris says Ardern and her partner, Clarke Gayford, were not home at the time, so he let the neighbour take the cat to a vet and returned to work. He went back to Ardern’s house later that day and spoke to Gayford about the incident.

“He was really nice and said, ‘Look, it could have happened to anyone,’” Chris said. “He was clearly very upset.”

Chris’ children wrote a condolence card for the PM. The card included a plea for Ardern not to send their dad to prison.

A month later, Ardern called Chris to thank him for the card. “It was extremely nice of her to take time out of her day to check that I was OK for running over her cat,” he said.

Chris later encountered Ardern at the park in their Point Chevalier neighbourhood, where he decided to tell her about Paddles in person.

“I basically confessed that I was the one who ran over Paddles,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and then she said, ‘No, I’m sorry,’ and it kind of went around in circles.”

Chris says he still feels awful for killing the couple’s “fur baby,” but he was relieved after Ardern announced she was pregnant a few months later.

“That made me feel a bit better that I didn’t take out the only one thing that they loved,” he said.

Ardern’s office has not commented on Chris’ confession — but Paddles has.

The cat’s Twitter account is now called “The Ghost of Paddles,” and it’s only sent out a handful of tweets since that fatal October incident. One tweet celebrated the birth of Ardern’s child in June 2018.

Paddles has only tweeted once since then to share a link to Chris’ confession.

“I forgive you,” Paddles tweeted on Wednesday.

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