Senior center is the cats’ meow

Kristi O’Harran

Kristi’s Notebook

NHallie was as happy to see me as my bank on payday. This queen of the Everett Senior Activity Center welcomed my scratching hand with a meow and a lick.

I was honored her highness made time for a lowly subject like myself. She reigns with cohort Lily, also gorgeous feline royalty, from chairs to laps at their happening clubhouse.

These hep cats know a good deal when they see one.

About a year ago, Everett Senior Activity Center Director Ralph Mackey toyed with the idea of letting a cat live at the lively digs. He researched the success of pet programs at nursing and retirement homes and read information published by AARP about pets and seniors.

"Seniors love pets," Mackey said. "I thought cats would be OK for us. No one would have to take the cat home like they would a dog."

While the idea percolated, fate stepped in. JoAnne Emery, office specialist, came to work one day with an awful errand on her mind. A stray kitten from her Granite Falls neighborhood needed to be dropped off at the animal shelter. The shelter opened later in the morning so Emery brought the kitten along to the center.

Staff nuzzled the ball of fluff while discussing what can happen to a cat at the shelter.

Tiger Lily never made it to the pound. She was taken to a veterinarian to fix an injured lip and recuperated at her new home.

Mackey didn’t want Lily to be lonesome, so he adopted Hallie at the shelter. The two girls pal around the more than 18,000 square feet of the center with only a few spots off limits.

The two beauties wear little boxes on their bright collars, about the size of a AA battery. It’s bulky, but they don’t seem to mind the bulge. Invisible electric fences keep the cats from getting into the food or medical areas of the center. They have their own eating area. The staff takes turns on potty-box duty.

About the only inconvenience of having the pets is brushing their hair off chairs for staff meetings in Mackey’s office, he said.

Lily has a special friend who visits the center four days each week. Nelda Thyholt said Lily usually meets her at the door.

"Every day I look forward to seeing her," Thyholt said. "I can’t see anymore. She escorts me to the craft room."

Thyholt keeps a little surprise for Lily in the arts area. Next to windows that overlook Pacific Avenue, Thyholt keeps a chair on a table so Lily can climb high enough to peer outside.

"She loves to sit and look," Thyholt said. "She loves it when I scratch her ears and around her head."

I could hardly keep track of the cats. I saw them together in front of an open cupboard door. They had their little noses pressed near the lower shelf, exploring the new view.

Later, Lily showed me how she sits and looks at Pacific Avenue. It was too adorable. She was lying on the chair, with both paws stretched to the windowsill. It was the perfect height for the cat to slip into a fantasy land of chasing birds.

The day before, Mackey said a male resident played a great game with the cats. He walked around the center, dragging a string tied to a stick. The cats battled and batted the wiggling foe as the gentleman kept the line moving to their delight.

Mackey said there are some folks who visit the center who are allergic to cats. They keep their distance and few complain. Others, who he said he didn’t know could bend over, manage to reach down to pet the ladies.

"Most think it’s wonderful we’ve got the cats," Mackey said. "Most don’t have a pet at home."

The cats see more than 300 visitors a day at the Everett Senior Activity Center, 3025 Lombard Ave. Activity seems to be the key word here six days a week. It’s been several years since I did a story about the pool hall. There were a dozen men eyeing cue balls the day I visited. Friday is ladies’ pool day so women get a chance to test the felt. Three seniors had their feet in tubs of warm water at a foot clinic. A volunteer buzzed around the snack bar area. Before you get too far into your Christmas shopping, drop by the center store. Handmade baby clothing and a Barbie tent complete with a sleeping bag are worth a peek.

Take a computer class, eat lunch, book a bus trip, exercise, square dance, work a jigsaw puzzle or play bridge.

Then again, you could spend a quiet day in a comfortable chair with a lovely Lily or Hallie cat on your lap.

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