FOR 24 years, she was the record-breaking assassin of Glenturret distillery.

Towser, a tortoiseshell cat, finally retired after catching nearly 30,000 mice and earning herself a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Now Scotland's oldest working distillery is on the prowl for the perfect puss to replace her.

Nine cats have been shortlisted for the job of hunting mice at Glenturret - which is home to the Famous Grouse brand - at Crieff in Perthshire.

The finalists, Dylan, Domino, Frances, Hannah, Holly, Jet Li, Moggie, Lola and another Dylan, will be assessed on the catwalk by distillery staff and members of Cats Protection to see which is best suited for the role.

The cats have been chosen from the charity's protection centres across Scotland, including those in Arbroath, Dundee, Forfar, Perth and Glasgow.

Carol McLaren, a spokeswoman for the distillery which attracts 120,000 visitors a year, said: "Staff at the Scottish centres have put forward the cats they feel would be best suited to the distillery.

"The nine cats which have made it through to the final 'interview' stage are all real characters and each has fallen on bad times through no fault of their own.

"We need a cat which is outgoing enough to welcome our visitors from all over the world, and he or she should enjoy being the centre of attention and certainly not camera-shy. Mousing ability would be an advantage, but is not essential."

Ms McLaren said that they had even consulted a cat psychologist as they knew it was not going to be easy to find a successor to Towser.

"She is held in huge affection by whisky enthusiasts all over the world - some overseas fans regularly sent her parcels of caviar - and we had a Japanese film crew spend an entire day filming here last year for a programme to pay tribute to the remarkable cat."

She added: "The story goes that Towser's incredible mousing prowess was the result of a tiny nip being added to her milk each night, but we don't have any scientific proof to back this up and we certainly wouldn't advise this to anyone whose cat is under-performing in terms of vermin control."

Born on April 21, 1963, Towser lived at Glenturret for almost 24 years and caught 28,899 mice, plus an uncounted number of rats, rabbits and pheasants.

Her tally of mice earned her a place in the record book as the planet's mouse-catching champion.

She also did a lot of TV work. The contentment of the distillery cat even featured in the pounds -2.5m development plans for The Famous Grouse Experience, which opened at Glenturret in June 2002.

Towser died on March 20, 1987, and 10 years later a statue was erected on the distillery grounds to commemorate her.

Ms McLaren added: "We have been without a cat at the distillery for several months now and all our team there are really looking forward to welcoming their new feline resident, but it's going to be very hard to make the final decision."

They are also hoping that the winner of "Cat Idol" will do a better job than Amber, the apathetic cat, who took over from Towser but failed to live up to her famous grandmother's feat as a prolific mouser.

In 1998, The Herald had to report that Amber had failed to catch a single mouse.

Matters did look up and three years later it was reported that she had caught one mouse. However, it managed to escape.

When she died last year, she still had no notches on her collar. RAT RACE: These nine cats will battle it out to see who will be chosen to replace Towser.