VOLANT, Pa. — As Jill Biden addressed a crowd of Democratic supporters on Rick Telesz's Lawrence County farm on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, a gray, shorthair tabby cat hopped on the back of the makeshift stage and pranced in front of her with its tail standing tall, catching the attention of the now-first lady.
The crowd broke out in laughter.
"She was speaking and she stopped, acknowledged the cat, but the cat continued to walk down and jumped and sat on a chair in the front row, right in front of her," Telesz recalled Friday evening. "Even after she got done talking, she made some comments toward the cat."
A few days after the election, a Democratic party official phoned Telesz.
"The gentleman says, 'I don't know how to ask you this, Rick.' And I thought, 'Oh boy, I'm in trouble now,'" Telesz said. "But he goes, 'Dr. Jill Biden was wanting to know if you would allow her to adopt that cat.'"
On Friday, President Joe Biden's White House staff announced the adoption of the cat, Willow Biden, named after the first lady's hometown on Willow Grove, Montgomery County. It's the first cat to occupy the White House since India, the black cat that belonged to President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.
The Bidens picked up the cat from Telesz in February 2021. Willow is now about 3 years old, Telesz said.
"The cat was born on the farm. It was actually my uncle's favorite cat," said Rick Telesz, referring to his business partner Tom Telesz. The two operate the Telesz Family Farm in the tiny Lawrence County borough about 22 miles east of Youngstown, Ohio, in western Pennsylvania.
"This cat would wait for him to come to the barn," Rick Telesz said. "Then it would actually jump through the window in his truck and sit up on his shoulder. She was just a nice cat, really friendly. And that's kind of unusual for a farm cat. Most of them are a little bit leery."
Rick Telesz had risen to political fame in 2020 for backing Biden after voting for President Donald Trump four years earlier. He was featured in campaign ads and later spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
Telesz's veterinarian had joked with the soybean and dairy farmer that he would one day end up "in D.C.," he said.
"When I got the call asking if they could have the cat, I called my vet and I said, 'doc, guess what? I got the call from D.C.' He got all excited, asks 'where are you going?' I said, 'No, they don't want me. They want the cat.'"
'From the milk house to the White House'
Greenville, Mercer County veterinarian Heather Palm conducted a cat physical and spayed Willow.
"She coined a pretty nice phrase," Telesz said. "She said it's going 'from the milk house to the White House.'"
Telesz said he "wasn't the most popular person in my neighborhood" after a CNN reporter interviewed him during the 2020 campaign about his decision to switch his support from Trump to Biden.
"Whenever they found out, started hearing rumors about this cat going to D.C., it did change their attitude toward me," he said. "They weren't so hostile."
Telesz hopes that he can join his furry friend in D.C. next year.
The registered Democrat is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, of Butler, R-16th Dist. The district currently includes Erie, Crawford, Mercer and Lawrence counties and a portion of Butler County.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Willow Biden, new White House cat, comes from Lawrence County farm