Cats at Work
by Patricia Fry
The working cat isn't a new concept in America. Cats have earned their keep for years as mousers on farms and in granaries and factories. Today, cats are taking on more sophisticated workplace duties—supervisor, public relations executive, official greeter, window dressing and salescat, for example.
One of the most famous working cats was Socks, the first cat. Always sharply dressed in his black and white tuxedo, he typically received White House guests. He undoubtedly helped with other tasks such as, finding paperclips under important documents in the Oval Office or consulting with the cooks about the lunch menu. Tuna, anyone?
Not all working cats live in luxury. My daughter's cat, Otto, was born in a dark, dirty corner of a California auto body shop. Otto's mother (after being spayed) still helps out at the shop.
Hangarcat works at an airport in Nevada. Matilda is employed at the cable car museum in San Francisco, California. And there are cats who live in theaters—sometimes making an unexpected appearance on stage during a play.
How widespread are cats in the workplace? Trina Samson has documented over 300 of them on her website, www.shopcat.com. She started the website because of her desire to shop where there are feline employees. Samson says, "Shopping in a store where there's a cat is like shopping in a store owned by a friend."
On her website, she lists the cats by state for others who share her views. She says, "I like people to know where the shop cats are so they can find them when they go on trips."
How do cats find these unique jobs? According to Samson, "Most are rescued cats, but there are several that just wandered in and made themselves at home," as was the case with Hemingway.
Margaret Morris is the director of Southern Peaks Public Library in Alamosa, Colorado, She says, "Hemingway appeared at the back door of the library in 1993." A healthy, full-grown cat, the library staff surmised that someone lost him when they were passing through town.
He has since become a permanent resident employee of the library. Morris explains, "When city officials mandated all city employees get a photo identification card, Hemingway got his own photo card, too."
And he couldn't have chosen a better place to work. "He goes in and out as he pleases as the patrons come and go," says Morris. "He sleeps in his custom made bed in my office in the mornings where the sun comes in. He also has other favorite spots: the Lazy Boy chair in the periodical section, the box of newspapers in the genealogy room and a dark corner under the circulation desk." Hemingway's main job is greeter. According to Morris, "He's known to lounge on the front counter where patrons can make a fuss over him."
The American Heart Association recently reported on a new study that suggests
having a pet can significantly reduce high blood pressure associated with highly demanding careers. Some studies show that pet owners have lower blood pressure levels than non-owners. And interviews with people who have visited an office where there's an animal say that they feel better after leaving that office than they did when they arrived.
Thus stress-reduction is a major impetus for bringing cats into the workplace.
Morris can attest to the soothing qualities Hemingway brings to their library. She says, "One patron told us that when she came in, she was rather depressed. After Hemingway sat in her lap for a while, she left feeling much better."
Andy Stone also believes in pet therapy. The editor/co-publisher of the Aspen Times in Colorado, he has always allowed dogs in his plant. In fact, he claims there are a dozen or so dogs in the office everyday. He explains, "People in Aspen love their dogs and bringing dogs to work is one of the major benefits of working here."
Amidst the menagerie of dogs, lives one cat named Scoop. "His name is a reference to both newsgathering and kitty-litter cleaning," says Stone. "We got the cat because of a serious problem with mice. He caught some and eventually the problem was under control."
At night Scoop has the building to himself and can go where he wants. But during the day, when the place is alive with dogs, the plump gray cat generally slips around the office at desk level where the dogs can't get to him.
Stone admits that Scoop is no longer earning his keep. He says, "He performs absolutely no useful function of any kind these days. We had a mouse in the office recently. A couple of reporters cornered it and someone brought Scoop to the scene. He looked at the mouse and walked away."
While Scoop seems to be entering retirement mode, other cats are out there still making a difference. Faux Paw, also known as Techno Cat, is a teacher. This orange tabby is Utah's first cat. He lives in the Utah State Capitol building with Governor and Mrs. Mike Leavitt. His nickname, Techno Cat, came about because he uses his own website to educates children on Internet safety.
Sessa is the supervisor at Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts Company in Philadelphia. She was living under a porch when owners, David Szewczyk and Cynthia Davis Buffington found her and brought her to live in the bookstore.
Simpson and Ghost work at PetStop, a retail pet supply store in Bellingham, Washington. According to owner, Alan Gardner, who adopted them from the local animal shelter, "They provide a constant source of entertainment for customers and staff"
And they're super salescats. Gardner explains, "Any collar they wear, food they eat, treat they enjoy, toy they play with, or bed they occupy becomes an instant commercial success. We had these really nice leopard and tiger print cat collars that weren't selling. We decided to put one on Simpson. She's an orange tabby and the collar looked wonderful on her. We sold out in just a few day and they've been selling ever since."
The Devine Miss M, a lovely tortoiseshell cat, has been in public relations at the Lexington, Kentucky-based Meridian Communications Ad Agency for 11 years. She is assisted by Pumpkin, an orange tabby. Both former humane society residents, they seem happy to be part of the 60-employee team at Meridian.
According to Director of Public Relations, Aimee Hiller, "Not everyone loves the cats, but even those who occasionally complain, enjoy the novelty of having them around. Miss M and Pumpkin know who to avoid and who gives out the best rubs and treats."
And the cats definitely help to keep the employees' stress levels down. Hiller says, "They are always around to remind us that life is really about enjoying yourself and the people you are around."
What are Miss M and Pumpkin's duties? Hiller says, "They are attracted to the most exciting scene at the agency. So if there's a large meeting going on, they attend."
Not every cat is cut out to work outside the home. Hiller suggests to those who want to hire a cat, "Adopt an adult cat who has demonstrated an easy-going demeanor for the easiest transition into office life."
Trina Samson adds, "The biggest thing to think about if you want a cat at work is the hours of the store and how long the cat would be alone. If you're there only eight hours a day, maybe get two cats so they can keep each other company. Or bring the cat back and forth with you."
When Rhonda Morris and Becky Dorroh bought BookEnds, a bookstore in Lake Jackson, Texas, they carried on a long tradition. Simon had just lost his best feline friend and was lonesome so they brought the Russian blue-type cat to the bookstore. Then they adopted Ophelia (Fia), an orange tabby, to keep him company. "Both of the cats took immediately to the store," says Dorroh. "Fia is a people cat and sleeps in the front window. We gave up on keeping the displays upright. We just build our displays around her bed. She continually draws a crowd and that has added to our walk-in traffic."
They have an occasional person who won't come in because of an allergy or a dislike for cats, "But," says Dorroh, "we also have our share of people who are allergic and don't like cats and who still shop with us. The key is to keep the store neat and clean. We also buy allergenic filters for the air conditioner."
Dorroh sums up the true effect and purpose of the workplace cat. "Customers say how relaxing it is to come in, sit in one of the wingback chairs next to the fish tank and pet the cat. It does seem to de-stress people." And she adds, "Simon loves to visit with the kids in the children's section. Many a time we find him sitting in the lap of a child who has found the small recliner."
Are cats changing the face of the workplace? Certainly they are for many employees, clients, customers and patrons. And because cats offer so much in return for a place to live, perhaps more businessmen and women will consider rescuing a cat or two to become resident employees.