Feline Fixture Right at Home in the Halls of Government : Port Hueneme: Shady the cat has been a resident for seven years. She has never missed a City Council meeting.
Her name is Shady. No one knows where she came from, but seven years ago, she paid Port Hueneme City Hall a visit. She liked what she saw, and made City Hall her home.
She also took over their hearts.
“I was not fond of cats before, but Shady turned me around,” said City Manager Richard Velthoen, who is known to hold Shady on his arm while he talks on the phone. “I don’t know what it is about her, but I can’t help liking her.”
Since she adopted City Hall, Shady has yet to miss a City Council meeting. During council discussions, she is often fondly patted by residents and sometimes dozes off on their laps.
“She adds a personal touch to City Hall,” said 21-year Port Hueneme resident Laura Snell, who often attends council meetings. “Her presence tends to maintain a sense of community and neighborhood feeling.”
But Shady, a tailless, black-haired cat, is also known for being independent and temperamental.
“She loves to be the center of attention, but she lets you know when she has had enough or is bored,” said Elaine Morse, deputy city clerk. “She either runs away or gives you tiny bites.”
According to city employees, Shady originally lived with a couple in a house near City Hall for a while. But after visiting City Hall one day, she did not return to the house.
“She would sneak in here,” said Tamah Berger, a city code enforcement officer who is Shady’s main care-taker. “In a short period of time, she had become ingrained here and no one could take her away because she would come back.”
Shady spends her days roaming the building, sometimes napping in city offices as workers go about their jobs. But she invariably sniffs out any meeting in progress.
“She always knows where we are having a meeting,” Velthoen said. “She likes to be around people.”
Every morning around 7 a.m., Berger fills two blue bowls--one with water and the other with cat food--which are placed outside the back entrance of City Hall.
“When I come to work, the first thing I do is to put my bag down and feed her,” Berger said.
She spends about $25 a month to supply Shady with food.
“Often, I send a message in the computer to everyone asking them to pitch in,” Berger said. “Usually people help.”
But Berger is the one who financially supports Shady. She not only buys Shady food but also clips Shady’s nails and takes her to the veterinarian, which costs Berger about $70 a year.
“I can’t help it,” said Berger, who has two cats at home. “I just love cats.”
At night though, no one knows where Shady sleeps. Before City Hall employees go home, they make sure that Shady is outside.
“She is very independent and knows how to take care of herself,” Berger said. “She is always waiting for me by the door at 7 o’clock.”
Two park enforcement officers who work Saturdays and Sundays take care of Shady on weekends.
Despite her antics and independence, not everyone is fond of Shady.
Tom Figg, the city’s director of community development--who happens to be Berger’s husband--said he does not believe that Shady should be permitted to hang out around City Hall, even if she does provide some comic relief.
“She does have a tendency to bring humor to what otherwise would be a vulnerable and boring situation,” Figg said. “But because she feels she has control over the place, she can become a nuisance.”
Shady, however, is known to have calmed some residents in times of crisis. Port Hueneme police say Shady often stops by the police station--located in City Hall--and has been of use to them in dealing with the public.
“I have seen Shady walk into a room where a person was crying, jump in the person’s lap or nearby chair and, in a few minutes, the person stopped crying,” Sgt. Ken Dobbe said. “It was as if Shady sensed that something was wrong in that room.”
Whether she continues to amuse and perform small services, one thing seems sure: Shady isn’t about to leave.
“Whether anyone likes or not, she won’t leave,” Velthoen said. “What are we going to do with her? Take her away? She probably would end up back here anyway.”