Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Part-time pet

Store's friendly feline mascot shares affection with customers -- and the feeling is mutual

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Many say that the best place for a pet is in a home. After learning about Candy, a resident cat living at the Pet Valu on Henderson Highway, I'm beginning to wonder if there are exceptions to that rule.

At 26 years old, Candy has made the pet store her home since 1994. Adopted by Linda McKay, the store owner, this senior feline didn't always spend her days in Pet Valu. Candy followed a path many cats have taken. She originally lived with another owner, but was given to McKay because the owner's husband developed allergies.

Abandoning a cat due to an allergy may not be a unique story, but Candy's tale is one of a kind. She's become a communal pet.



Candy would occasionally accompany McKay to the store. Like other cats, she wasn't thrilled by riding in the car. Leaving her at home wasn't the best option either, because Candy loved the attention she'd receive at work. One night, McKay left her at the store overnight by accident. To McKay's relief, she fared well. In fact, Candy enjoyed her new abode so much, and despised the car with such fervor, McKay allowed her to become an official store resident.

Some of you may wonder what a cat gets up to when it's left alone in a store all night. My cat, Rainbow, would riffle through every cat-food bag within reach and climb to get those beyond his grasp, too. Bella, my dog, well, she'd would eat her body weight in food within the first hour (I'm thinking it's a family trait). Candy is different. She has only gotten into trouble once; she tore open a bag of catnip. I suspect that sent her on a trip that cured her from food theft for life.

According to McKay, "Candy loves people." And people love Candy. Customers come into the store just "to see how she's doing." As the store is located near schools, visiting Candy has become a habit for many local students. Her kind nature and sweet spirit seems to draw customers to her the way my hand attracts a margarita.

For many, she's become a surrogate pet. Seniors, unable to have animals in their homes, use the time with Candy to fulfil the need to interact with animals. Candy is their part-time cat.

McKay has become concerned about her cat recently, owing to her weight loss and bouts of epilepsy. Because of her age, McKay says, "veterinarians can't do anything for her." Despite this, Candy seems to have maintained a fantastic spirit.

One customer, Gail Lamoureux, has visited Candy for years. Walking into the store, she immediately looks to see "Candy on her stool." Lamoureux admits "I get frantic when I don't see her." It's obvious this customer has become attached to Candy. She often takes her daughter along on her weekly store visits. Lamoureux will spend 15 to 20 minutes just petting and reassuring the now frail little feline. She's unsure if Candy hears her anymore, but it doesn't matter to Lamoureux. Just knowing the cat is still around is enough.

Lamoureux has fostered many cats, but she feels a special affinity for Candy. Many who don't appreciate cats think they are all alike -- aloof and self-serving. But this cat doesn't fit that bill. Lamoureux says, "People just love to pet her. She's friendly and nice." Aside from a recent incident with a dog, according to McKay, most dogs also seem to like this senior feline.

Sniffing and trying to hold back tears, Lamoureux tells me, "When she's gone, I don't know what I'm going to do." Some may not understand this. If you're not a cat lover perhaps you'll think, "It's just a cat, and it's not even her cat. Why would she cry over this?" But animal lovers comprehend just how easily these creatures can embed themselves into our daily lives. Candy is part of Lamoureux's routine, and the routine of many other customers, too.

As much as these brief encounters with customers provide a 26-year-old cat with much appreciated affection, I imagine she's providing equal joy to those around her.

Michel de Montaigne, French essayist from the Renaissance period, once wrote: "When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her." I suspect this is the reason why people love cats. They seem to possess an innate wisdom. Owners don't expect cats to follow or obey. Existing is enough. Occasional affection is icing on the cake.

Candy may not know how much joy she has given over her 26 years of life.

On second thought, maybe she does.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2009 B10

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