MOSES LAKE — Finding good help can be hard, but not for the small businesses with a little, fuzzy employee on the payroll to help manage the front of the shop, run a low-cost pest control operation or otherwise keep their customers’ laps warm.
At a hangar and shop near the Moses Lake Municipal airport, which houses both TyFy Detail and Blue Sky Aviation, Rod Richeson, the owner of the latter business, walks around the shop with his feline hired help perched on his shoulder.
“I’ve got a dog with cat software and a cat with bird software,” Richeson chuckled.
The hangar cat, a 6- or 7-month-old cat aptly named Rudder, started his mousing duties in October, back before Richeson moved into the space he shares with TyFy. That hangar wasn’t well sealed, Richeson said, and it wasn’t uncommon to have to clear out a handful of pygmy rabbits or other rodents in the wintertime.
The young cat isn’t as independent as Richeson was hoping, preferring to spend his time on somebody’s shoulders or lap.
“Originally when we moved into here, when we went home at night, he would try to go out the door with us,” Richeson said. “Now when the lights go out he knows that everybody’s leaving and he seems fine with it.”
Rudder is comfortable staying in the office at night, Richeson said, though he’s often caught sneaking into the hangar and sleeping inside a plane or on top of a high set of shelves. He can also be naughty around his coworkers’ food. Richeson recently brought a bucket of fried chicken to work, and it was all he could do to pull away the chicken bone without his fingers getting added to Rudder’s midday snack.
Still, Rudder is great with customers and cuddly with their children, Richeson said.
Just down the road from Rudder’s home office, a much more experienced hangar cat grumpily lifts his head from the office chair where he’s either been working hard or hardly working. Scout is getting on in years, and while he’s certainly been keeping rodents out of his workplace for longer than a decade, it’s been long enough that Ron Piercy, the owner of Rainbow Flying Service, isn’t quite sure how old he is anymore.
Approaching retirement age, Scout has slowed down a bit, and likes to spend much of his day napping in the office and much of his night sleeping in the hangar, inside the cockpit of one of the planes Piercy is fixing up, as often as not. Still, his record of keeping out the mice that proliferate in the nearby fields is unimpeachable, Piercy said. And when the old boy wants to go out for a stroll, he’ll clamber up a pipe 10 feet that runs out of the shop to a catwalk outside, as lithe as the day he was hired.
While cats can be helpful to keep rodents away from hangars, they’re just as efficient in their roles off the airfield. At Johnson Glass Co. in Othello, Mr. D has provided his services since he was a baby only recently weaned from his mother.
Around 12 years ago, Ken Johnson, the shop’s owner, was driving to work one morning when he heard a tiny plea while parked at a stop sign. When he got out to check, Mr. D, then just a kitten no older than one or two months, was resting on Johnson’s spare tire. He seemed to have taken to the tire to sleep the night before, only to wake up to his bed driving off with him still on board.
Mr. D was taken in. The shop attempted to keep a cat before him, Mr. D’s predecessor had no loyalty to his employers and eventually wandered off. But when Mr. D saw Johnson Glass’ benefits package — a fireplace in the corner of the shop — he knew he would stay until he retired.
“Every so often he’ll get locked out for the night, but as soon as we pull up here, he meets us at the door,” Johnson said. “If he gets closed out during the day or something, he’ll go out to that window there and just sit there and stare, wait for somebody to open up the door and let him in.”
“That’s the owner and proprietor right there,” joked Renee Spurgeon, an employee at Johnson Glass, pointing to Mr. D as he basked in the window.