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May 21, 2022

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Cats at work in businesses around Clark County

From bookstores to nurseries to hardware stores, many find their resident felines are purr-fect ambassadors to their customers

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
15 Photos
Socket, 18 months, prowls the aisles of Lutz Hardware in downtown Camas.
Socket, 18 months, prowls the aisles of Lutz Hardware in downtown Camas. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As Ed Oquendo stood in line on a recent Monday at Vintage Books in Vancouver, he cradled Henry, a 19-year-old tabby who lives at the bookstore. Henry appeared nonplussed by the interaction.

Daily cuddles from customers come with the territory of being a live-in store cat. Humans are just part of the roving scenery.

Store cats act as furry little mascots — and potential marketing gold — even though they couldn’t care less about selling anything. For employees, their workday is infused with affectionate, amusing or sometimes annoying interactions that come with having a cat around.

There are an estimated 96,000 cats in Clark County, at least where the county’s Animal Control serves, making the ones spotted at area businesses among the precious, purring few.

Mondo and Daphne, Lily and Kamie

To find Mondo and Daphne at Yard ‘n Garden Land, just look for warm nooks in the store or anywhere there’s a ray of sunshine. It can take a bit to locate either of them. The nursery’s gift store is about 10,000 square feet, and then there’s 3 or 4 acres of land, said office manager Jessica Flatt.

“They do know how to open the automatic doors, which I think is funny,” Flatt said. “My cousin and I — when she worked here — we had been talking about ‘we need a shop cat. We need a shop cat.’ It was maybe a couple years later that Daphne strolled in. It seemed the perfect fit.”

The former stray tabby is believed to be about 10 years old. She’s named after the daphne shrub, a fragrant blooming evergreen. Occasionally, Daphne will scratch those who chase her, but for the most part she’s a friendly cat, often content to sleep in Flatt’s upstairs office.

Mondo, a black long-haired cat named after black mondo grass, is the more adventurous of the two. He’ll venture across the street to the employee parking lot, next to a small wooded area; Flatt suspects this is primarily where Mondo hunts mice and where he may get into fights with stray cats. About five years ago, Mondo wandered onto the property. He was trapped, neutered, and is no longer feral.

The two kitties like to sleep in boxes or pots, and on top of bags of fertilizer or lawn seed.

“They love being out there in the greenhouse in the springtime because we have the canopy over the greenhouse. It gets really warm in there and they just bask in the sun,” Flatt said.

People — especially children proud that they’ve remembered the cats’ names — will make an effort to see the cats while visiting the store.

“Somebody will say, especially with Mondo, ‘What a neat-looking cat. I want to take him home.’ Oh no, he’s ours. … He’s priceless,” said Barb Stonehouse, a customer service representative at the store.

“I think it’s fun for the whole atmosphere of the business. Kids love them. We love them. They just add a little character to the business,” Flatt said.

While Flatt is Mondo and Daphne’s official owner, the felines really belong to the store. And, she has to remind their veterinarian that these cats are shop cats, not your typical indoor-outdoor cats. They sleep in the store every night, and employees collectively feed and clean up after them.

Cats aren’t an unusual presence at nurseries, at least locally. Shorty’s Garden & Home in Vancouver has a pair of cats that live in the store. Early one morning about nine years ago, Rob Sculley, who heads up help and advice at Shorty’s, had just started watering plants in the parking lot when he saw a cat walking toward his truck with several kittens trailing behind her. All of them jumped inside the engine compartment to stay warm.

“My guess is that she had been dumped in the parking lot,” Sculley said.

The store got them fixed and current on their shots before adopting out all of the kittens except for one, Kamie. When it gets sunny, Kamie and her mother, Lily, will nap amongst the potted trees, and Kamie will sometimes hitch a ride in people’s shopping carts.

Henry and Dickens

On a recent Monday, Henry sat on the glass front counter at Vintage Books, greeting customers. Or, rather, they were greeting him with hugs and by stroking his tricolored fur. Meanwhile, Dickens — as in Charles Dickens — hid behind a bookshelf.

“It’s just a comforting thing,” said Becky Milner. There’s something about a quiet bookstore and perching cats that seems to go hand-in-hand.

Milner owns the bookstore, which has been around for 41 years, but says she doesn’t own the cats.

“This is theirs,” Milner said, gesturing to the 6,000-square-foot store. “This is all theirs.”

The Vancouver bookstore has had several cats. It started with Drip (a cat so named because he drooled), who greeted everybody who came in, even those who didn’t want to be greeted. Then, there was Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, named after the main characters in “My Fair Lady.” When Eliza died, Henry became lonely and so Milner adopted Dickens, a black shorthair.

Dickens, who’s about 7 now, will scurry out of his hiding spot in the evening when fewer people are around.

Like any other bookstore crowded with shelves and stacks, there are lots of places a kitty could tuck into. Throughout the store are a series of wooden planks that stabilize the book shelves. For years, these offered Henry trails to roam above the humans perusing books. He used to have a ramp leading to the top of the book shelves and was known to walk the skinniest planks, just a couple inches wide.

At 19, Henry doesn’t do that anymore. He likes to lie on work surfaces, desks and keyboards, and still enjoys roaming, though he gets glucosamine to aid his aging joints. When the store has author talks and book signings, he walks the aisles to check out everyone in attendance.

“I swear part of my job title is cat carrier,” said Debbie Buck, a book buyer and Milner’s daughter.

She’ll cradle Henry in her arms, lugging him around the store. Her relationship with Dickens is much more finicky; it took about five years for Dickens to let her pet him.

“There are some people who say ‘How’s Henry?,’ ‘Where’s Henry?’ ” Milner said, adding that the cats are “just part of the staff.”

She said it’s not unusual, at least for independent bookstores, to have cats. Cover to Cover Books, which closed its Vancouver store last year, had a cat.

Craftsman and Socket

True to his name, Craftsman the cat can often be found curled up on the cushioned seats of a Craftsman riding lawn mower at Sears Hometown Store in downtown Camas. There’s one next to the store’s windowed doors, where he can sunbathe and watch people walking by.

“I have customers that call just to say ‘Hi’ to Craftsman,” said Patty Park, who brings the cat to work with her. “He’s just been great for the store.”

On a recent Friday, he climbed down from the lawn mower and batted at a red ‘Happy birthday!’ balloon. The store celebrated the kitty’s birthday in March with balloons, cat-shaped cupcakes and a cat food drive for the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.

About a year ago, on a sunny afternoon, Craftsman was found in the recycling behind the back of the store. He was just a handful of days old — his eyes were still shut — and dehydrated.

After waiting to see if his mother would return, the kitten was fixed up at Camas Washougal Animal Hospital. Since Craftsman had to be bottle-fed formula every couple of hours, Park brought him to work with her. And, customers often came in to take over caretaking duties.

He’s an easygoing cat who fancies chasing wadded paper towels and toilet paper.

Just a few blocks away at Lutz Hardware is an 18-month-old Russian blue named Socket. Store owner Aaron Lutz adopted him after the store’s last cat, Coaster, died. Back in the day, hardware stores used to have cats for rodent management, Lutz said, so having Socket around harkens back to an old-school way of running the business. Lutz Hardware was started by his grandparents in 1950. Lutz adopted Socket, a former stray found in a field in Longview, because Russian blues are believed to be more hypoallergenic.

Socket sits on the dash or console in Lutz’s truck on his way to work. Once there, he spends mornings chasing people around and popping out of hiding places. He plays with box straps and is enamoured with a string that employees occasionally tie to people’s belt loops.

“If you have this string, he would follow you to the end of the earth,” Lutz said.

Sometimes, people think Socket isn’t a real cat at first and are startled when he moves.

“Why would I have a fake one? That’s even odder than having a real cat,” Lutz said.

He said multiple businesses in east Clark County have cats, making Camas a “sort of cat town.”

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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