Sunday, March 27, 2011
When Magic the cat, the resident mouser at Children's Fairyland in Oakland, died eight years ago, the local mice - whom Magic had kept at bay for years - immediately went to work raiding Fairyland's stores of food for the critters in its Animal Corral.
Clearly, a new feline enforcer was needed. So Yvonne Backman, Fairyland's animal caretaker, went to the Oakland animal shelter to interview job applicants.
Her gaze alighted on a sweet little black-and-white female with the romantic name of No. 1773342. She was friendly, she was curious and - best of all - the card on her cage said she hadn't been declawed.
This was important because a major part of the job description is hunting mice, and she needed her claws for that.
That sealed the deal. Backman took little No. 1773342 back to Fairyland and renamed her Jewel.
From Day One, Jewel appointed herself queen of the park. She spent her days roaming at will, graciously accepting petting and praise from everyone she ran into.
"And on Mondays, when the park was closed, we'd find her out in front by the Shoe, waiting for passers-by to pet her and adore her," says Fairyland's horticulturalist, Robin North.
Jewel was the center of attention at every staff meeting. She'd walk around the table and get petted by each person in turn. Then she'd settle down in the middle of the table, curl up, and monitor the proceedings.
"And she was amazing with kids," says development director Ann Singer. "They'd pick her up and let her dangle precariously, but she never hissed or bit anyone. She knew they were just kids."
The other animals adored her, especially the Three Amigos - Juan the alpaca, Twinkle the sheep and Dori the pony - and the Bad Boys - Gideon and Tumbleweed Tommy, the miniature donkeys - whom she visited regularly on her daily rounds.
Curiously, two weeks after she was adopted, executive director C.J, Hirschfield was playing with Jewel in her lap and suddenly said, "This cat has been declawed!"
Backman couldn't believe it. After all, the card on Jewel's cage said she hadn't been declawed. But sure enough, no claws.
By then, of course, everyone had fallen in love with her, so there was no question of taking her back. But here's the funny part: The lack of claws never hampered her mousing ability. Backman kept a running total of her kills on a tally board in the office to prove to disbelievers that Jewel was doing her job.
Alas, it ended all too soon. Two weeks ago Jewel suddenly developed severe intestinal distress, and after a week of heroic efforts, the reluctant decision was made to have her euthanized.
Everyone at Fairyland is devastated. They miss her terribly.
Unfortunately, they had to run up some serious medical bills in this losing fight. And for a place like Fairyland, which is running on the tightest of budgets in these troubled times, there's no money for unanticipated emergencies like this.
If you, or a child you love, have ever been charmed by this sweet little cat or one of the other animals at Fairyland, now's the time to say thanks by sending a contribution to the Jewel Fund, c/o Children's Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland CA 94610.
Go to sleep now, Jewel. Good kitty.