Fifteen years ago, the Coast Guard in Alameda decided to do away with a growing colony of feral cats on the base. They were descendants of the cats who had been imported years earlier to combat a rodent infestation.
But Mary Sper, a volunteer with Island Cat Resources and Adoption (ICRA, for short), who was stationed on the island, heard about it and combated the overpopulation problem a different way. She humanely trapped the kitties, took them to local vets for vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery, and returned them to the base.
Over the years, the cats gradually disappeared. But one little kitten decided that this was her home, and this is where she was going to stay. Try as they might, nobody could re-trap her. She was just too smart for them.
She took up residence in the Chiefs' Hut, which is where all the Chief Petty Officers meet and hang out. And they reached a mutual modus vivendi.
They named her Chief – what else? – and gave her food and water and, in their own way, love.
In return, she kept the mice and rats away and, though she usually kept her distance, loved them back.
"Though she wasn't a lap cat, she was an institution at the Hut," says Chief Dan Doherty. "Her presence could be felt even from 10 feet away. She knew when folks were around, and she'd saunter out and meow for her food and water. Then she'd hang out with us on the back deck while we were having a beer or a soft drink."
Coast Guard personnel get transferred in and out on a regular basis, so over the years many, many Chief Petty Officers came to know Chief and love her.
But late in January, Doherty noticed a strange mark on her nose that was getting larger. So he called ICRA volunteer Jamie Reilly, who helped him trap her and take her to Alameda Pet Hospital.
The news couldn't have been worse: stage 4 cancer. Everyone was devastated, but they couldn't let her suffer any longer, so they had her humanely put down.
But she's not forgotten. On April 15 about a dozen people gathered at the Hut for a memorial service. Doherty gave a little talk about the history of cats and seafaring, and Brigitte Stafford read "The Rainbow Bridge."
Then they scattered her ashes in the Bay – a true burial at sea – and sat on the back deck for the rest of the afternoon sharing stories about her. A plaque reading, "For years of dedicated service, R.I.P. 'Chief' the cat" will be hung in the Chiefs' Hut, along with a laminated copy of this column.
There are so many other cats like Chief who could benefit from a little kindness, and the best way you can help them is by helping ICRA.
ICRA's big fundraiser of the year is its annual Champagne Silent Auction at the Alameda Elks Lodge, 2255 Santa Clara Avenue. This year's auction will be on May 2 from 7-10 p.m.; and it's always a terrific party, with great munchies and entertainment by guitarist Terrence Brewer. Suggested donation is $40 at the door.
And if you can't make it to the auction, you can still donate to this very worthy cause at icraeastbay.org.
Tell them Chief sent you.