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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hesitant President Pardons Katie

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush spared the first female turkey in the history of White House Thanksgiving turkey pardons Wednesday, an act that was apparently so unfamiliar that Bush twice referred to Katie, a 3.5-kilogram all-white clump of feathers, as "he."

"He looks a little nervous, doesn't he?" Bush said during the 10-minute Rose Garden ceremony attended by Cub Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs and an enormous contingent of reporters.

"He probably thinks he's going to have a press conference."

Handlers dragged a clearly reluctant Katie the Turkey onto a table to meet her rescuer.

Eyes wide, she reared back as the president approached. He seemed at least as wary, keeping his back to the bird and hands stuffed in his coat pockets.

Finally, Bush grabbed the hand of National Turkey Federation chairman Ron Prestage to do his cautious petting for him.

Tuesday marked the 55th anniversary of the turkey pardon, which always comes right before Thanksgiving.

After the president talked of giving thanks for freedom around the world, he spoke of Katie as "a pretty good-lookin' bird."

Katie, as many of her fellow fowl have learned, could have been just another dead bird walking: cranberry sauce to her left, green beans to her right, bared teeth hovering above her. But instead, the limelight, and history.

According to the turkey federation, she had an overnight stay at the Hotel Washington after arriving in the nation's capital.

Katie's male backup, Zack, also got a reprieve, though he stayed out of sight. Both turkeys, who turn 34 weeks old the day after receiving their freedom, were headed to Kidwell Farm, a suburban Virginia petting zoo.

Turning serious, Bush urged Americans to mark the Thanksgiving holiday by counting their blessings, remembering loved ones far from home -- especially those in the military -- and thinking of those suffering under oppression in other countries.

"Americans have always been a grateful people. We're grateful for our freedom; we're grateful for our families; we're grateful for our beautiful country," Bush said.

"All right, that's the turkey," he said after nine minutes. Bush reached for the bird one last time, provoking a lightning-quick duck of the head.

Of the 24 pardoned turkeys sent to the farm since 1990, only four -- including Katie and Zack -- are still alive.

How long Katie will actually enjoy Kidwell Farm is a big question.

The other two remaining in the turkey pen are Liberty and Freedom, the couple Bush pardoned last Thanksgiving.

Todd Brown, the manager of Frying Pan Park, said Wednesday that the turkeys are genetically bred to put on weight quickly and to live only as long as they are good for eating, usually about six months. But one turkey, he said, did live for three years.

"It's the weight on their bones and their joints that gets them," Brown said. "They start having trouble moving around, just like people. "

A senior administration official said the White House decided to pardon a female turkey at the suggestion of Prestage, the turkey's breeder, who had named the turkeys after his two children. (AP, WP, NYT)