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Letters and Litter : Complaints Put Duffy the Cat, the Post Office Mascot, in the Hot Seat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A stern letter from Port Hueneme’s postmaster to the operator of a neighborhood postal station threatening to shut down the office has raised the hackles of residents in a large senior citizens’ community.

The ultimatum: Get rid of Duffy the Cat or the station will be closed.

The station’s operator, Judy O’Sullivan, 70, and many of her customers say Duffy, an orange-and-white-striped tabby, is family and an essential part of the cozy atmosphere at the Channel Isles Books contract station, tucked away in a strip mall at 269 E. Channel Islands Blvd. O’Sullivan’s husband, Bill, 76, operates the bookstore adjoining the station.

But in his letter, city Postmaster Barry K. Hancock said he had “entered the office and was immediately overcome by foul smells from the animal and cigarette smoke.”

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“I have asked you many times to get rid of the cat,” the letter continued, “but it seems apparent that he will stay until you lose the contract station.”

The letter, dated April 21, gave Judy O’Sullivan until April 23 to dump Duffy and stop smoking in the shop.

The deadline has come and gone, but Duffy, a former stray, still roams the station and O’Sullivan still lights up--when customers aren’t around.

O’Sullivan said she has tried to be cooperative but wants to keep Duffy at the station.

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“I’m not going to get rid of Duffy,” she said. “I saved him. I rescued him. I can’t get rid of him. If (Hancock) wants to close the post office over this, let him.”

Hancock, who has been postmaster of the seaside city for 10 years, said he is concerned about customer safety and comfort. He said he has received about two dozen calls complaining about the smell of Duffy’s litter box as well as from allergic customers who suffered sneezing fits after visiting the station.

One resident said she nearly tripped as Duffy rubbed her leg, Hancock said. Another customer complained that she suffered an infection after Duffy scratched her, he said. Others griped about smoke billowing from O’Sullivan’s cigarettes.

Such complaints--and not a personal dislike for cats--prompted him to write the April 21 letter to O’Sullivan and report the problem to the postal district office in Van Nuys, Hancock said.

Many of O’Sullivan’s customers live in Hueneme Bay, a 700-unit condominium complex for people over age 55 that is within walking distance of the station.

They said they love Duffy and don’t know what all the fuss is about.

“I always look for the kitty,” said Pearl Knause, 90, who calls herself a “farm girl” with a great fondness for animals. “He gets on top of the counter and he’ll rub you and welcome you and be a friend.”

Besides surveying her neighbors around the station, Knause said she is planning a petition drive to save the small contract station, which became Duffy’s home last September.

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But Hancock said that complaints from residents with allergies or from those who simply hate cigarette smoke prompted the letter.

Hueneme Bay resident Maria Ledesma, 60, said she has asthma and that two weeks ago, when she was at the station, flying fur from Duffy’s coat forced her to seek allergy relief from her inhaler.

“I won’t go back there anymore,” Ledesma said, adding that she plans to visit the post office at the Channel Islands Harbor about a mile away instead.

On Thursday, Hancock explained his letter. “What I was trying to do was motivate her to change the situation there. There have been a lot of complaints about the cat. Customers find it irritating to find a cat laying on the counter. A lot of customers are allergic. I’ve asked her many times to change the situation.

“I have written her before,” Hancock said. “Hopefully I’m not going to have to go as far as my letter implies. My customers are extremely important to me.”

Hancock likes cats, he said.

“I have a cat,” Hancock said. “I certainly have nothing against cats, but it’s not proper to have the cat laying on the counter.”

Hancock appeared to soften his stance somewhat from what he called the “hard line” he took in the letter. He said that if there are no more complaints he may allow the station to remain open.

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And O’Sullivan is trying to do her part to clear the air. She said she has moved the litter box from the postal station’s bathroom to the back of the bookstore.

“I don’t know what else I can do,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m not going to get rid of the cat.”


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