A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Cat For All Seasons

                                         (Above: Kitty and one of her fans)
Sad faces on University Avenue in Berkeley: Kitty the cat, the official greeter and chief morale officer at Darling Flower Shop, was put to sleep on Oct. 23 after a losing battle with cancer. She was 14.
In the days before she died, dozens of people dropped by to say farewell.
"She was the sweetest cat I've ever known," says Paul Erickson, the night manager at nearby Au Coquelet cafĂ©.  "A lot of people who came by were not customers of the flower shop. They only saw her through the glass windows at the front of the store at night, when the store was closed. She'd come right up to the window and interact with them through the glass.
"She knew a couple of hundred people as individuals. She even remembered one grad student who had been gone a couple of years. When he came back, she went wild with joy."
Kitty had plenty of friends in the daytime, too. When the store was open she'd stand outside the front door and meow at anyone who passed by without stopping to pet her.
"And if that didn't do the trick, she'd run onto the sidewalk after them and meow even louder," says Jay Touriel, whose family has owned Darling Flower Shop since it was founded more than 80 years ago.
Jay and his wife Barbara loved Kitty unconditionally, even when she ripped apart the most expensive flowers in the shop, the Lizianthus, part of the catnip family.
"What the heck," he would say. "This is her home. She's a good girl."
When Kitty wasn't at the front of the store, she hung out in the office in back, curled up in her favorite possession, Jay's swivel chair.
"She loved to sit in it and be twirled around and around," says Barbara. "The faster, the better."
Kitty was actually Darling Flower Shop's third cat by that name. Kitty No. 1 was a Main Coon adopted from the Berkeley Humane Society. She lived for 10 years.
The day after she died, the shop was invaded by rats that had been attracted by a movie theater on one side and a restaurant on the other.
"I never realized how much Kitty had kept them at bay all those years," says Jay.
So the next day they adopted Kitty No. 2, a short-haired tabby. She, too, lived for 10 years. And the day after she died, a man came into the shop and said, "I have two little kittens that look a lot like your cat."
"I told him my cat had died the day before, and he gave me the kittens," says Jay. The male kitten found a home with Jay's dad in Kensington. The female became Kitty No. 3.
So will there be a Kitty No. 4? Of course. But she'll have a hard act to follow.
Darling Flower Shop was founded by Jay's grandfather, Raymond Touriel, in 1932. Among its customers: Billy Martin ("We did the flowers for all his weddings," says Barbara), actor Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers, and game show host Ralph Edwards,
And how did the shop get its name?
"A few months after it opened, a little old lady walked by," says Barbara. "She said, 'Oh, what a darling flower shop!' And the rest is history."