Creature Comfort

Wayward felines are at home with retired Sac State professor

By Cathryn Rakich
June 2019

The small sign hanging from the front door says it all: “Spoiled cats and their household staff live here!”

Spoiled cats indeed. Honey West, a tortie with a “tort-i-tude,” is most comfortable hiding under the bed when strangers call. Black Bart, a sleek panther-like feline, will make himself at home in anyone’s lap. Watson, a handsome short-hair tabby with golden brown highlights, is good about getting his daily diabetes shot but expects a treat for the effort. All three are seniors at 9, 10 and 11, respectively.

Their staff is Virginia Kidd, Ph.D., Sacramento author, playwright and retired communications studies professor. The family of four shares a two-story home on a quiet residential street in Midtown, where Kidd has lived for 20 years.

“I was naming them after detectives,” Kidd says about her current and past feline family. “Black Bart wandered up, but he just wasn’t a detective. My neighbor insisted he couldn’t call him Philip Marlow or Sam Spade. He answers to Bart—he knows his name.”

Kidd came across all three of her current cats when they just “wandered up.” Watson was 6 months old, and no one knows where he came from. Honey West entered through Kidd’s doggy door as a kitten and stayed.

“When Bart came, it was during that time when the economy was really bad,” Kidd says. “He was hurt and thin and suffering. There are apartments around here and I figured somebody just moved and left him.”

 

The detective theme extends to former kitties, including Reggie, Lulu, Ruby, Nancy Drew (adopted from the Front Street Animal Shelter) and Sherlock.

Sherlock, a short-hair orange tabby who passed away at age 18, wandered up to the dorms at Sacramento State. “Anyone who lived in the dorms knew him,” says Kidd, who retired from the university in 2010 after 35 years. “He slept on their beds. He was a very outgoing cat.”

Known for her love of felines, Kidd was asked by a colleague if she would open her heart to the wayward kitty. It wasn’t long before the sociable cat found a home with the professor.

Sherlock also played an important role in one of Kidd’s current passions: the Ella K. McClatchy Library, former home to the owner and editor of The Sacramento Bee, built in the early 1900s at 22nd and U streets. At the time, Kidd lived across the street from the library and Sherlock became an unofficial mascot, sitting on the front steps and greeting visitors. His fame landed his photo front and center on a fundraising T-shirt with the words, “McClatchy Library—A Purr-fect Place to Be.”

Kidd, who edits the library’s quarterly newsletter and oversees the Facebook page, became involved in 1995, when the McClatchy branch was targeted for closure during a budget crunch. With the help of a generous donor and volunteer support, the doors remained open. “We saved it. Now it’s very strong,” she says.

At home, Kidd’s art collection ranges from cat-related tchotchkes to original pieces, such as a collage by Sacramento artist Lisa Culjis featuring a feline who looks a lot like Watson. “Crazy Cat Lady” coffee mugs and kitschy pillows with cute cat quotes are subtly scattered about. “I’ve had a lot of years of doing this,” Kidd notes about her kitty decor.

Naturally, Kidd has worked cats into her writings. Her fourth mystery novel includes a cat named Topaz, “but she’s really Ruby,” Kidd admits. Another story has a black cat named Ink Jet. Her children’s book about a girl named Mollie features a kitty called Shere Khan from “The Jungle Book.”

Her published works are “COP Talk,” a guide to help police improve communication skills and community relations, and a three-act high school play called “Happily Ever Once Upon.” In addition, Kidd edited a paperback collection of short stories honoring her beloved McClatchy Library.

Kidd takes a laidback approach to sharing space with three independent felines. “Whatever they want to do that you don’t want to them to do, they will do more than you can say no. They are very determined.”

Kidd’s son grew up with the family cat Reggie and had already moved out when the cat passed away at age 18. “When he died, there was no one in the house,” Kidd says. “That was just horrible. Now, I can’t imagine coming home to that emptiness. It feels like there are people here—and they are not really demanding people.

“I believe they care about me—except for Honey West. She cares about Watson, so there you go. That’s a comfort.”

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at crakich@surewest.net. Previous columns can be found and shared at the all-new insidesacramento.com.

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