Leo, a spunky feline with soft swirls of auburn-red hair, is calling to his mom, Kitty O’Neal, from his outside sanctuary. “Are you ready to come in?” O’Neal queries her very vocal 12-year-old boy. Leo is perched on the top tier of his three-story cat condo in the backyard of O’Neal’s Curtis Park home, which she shares with husband, Kurt Spataro. Attached to the cage is a long tunnel made of netting that allows Leo to venture into the garden.
“Leo loves to be outside,” says O’Neal, afternoon news anchor for NewsRadio KFBK. “But I do not let my cats roam. So I said to Kurt, we have to let him out and endure the consequences, which I was not prepared to do, or find a way to let him out and confine him. Now he has a total setup in the backyard where he can’t get out and nobody can get in.”
O’Neal and Spataro, executive chef and partner for Paragary’s Restaurant Group, have opened their hearts to many cats throughout the years. In addition to Leo, the couple currently provides a home to two 7-year-old felines: Juneau, a friendly kitty with Alaska-white fur, and Blue, an Abyssinian with sleek grayish/blue hair and a golden-brown chest.
The couple’s fourth cat, Cinnabon, a senior they had for only two years, recently died. The feline’s previous owner had to go into a care facility, so O’Neal agreed to take in the kitty. “He was an older cat and had some issues. But I totally fell in love with him. He was just precious. He walked like an old man,” she remembers with a smile. “But he had the sweetest disposition ever … and he had one of those big motor purrs, which was so endearing. He was as good as gold.”
An affinity for cats
Growing up, O’Neal remembers telling her mother that she wanted to be surrounded by cats, which is fitting for someone named Kitty, a nickname she has had most of her life. (She also has an Aunt Kitty.) “We were never allowed to have more than one, and I always wanted a lot. When I was really little, I just knew it. There is just something about cats.”
Runs in the family
O’Neal’s father was base commander at Mather Air Force Base, where the family lived for several years while O’Neal attended and graduated from Folsom High School. She later earned a degree in communication from Sac State. “In their older years, my parents were wonderful about taking in cats.” For her mother, O’Neal’s father adopted a champagne-colored cat named Dolly from the SPCA. “I remember he said, ‘That cat did not look like she belonged in that cage.’ Dolly was my mom’s constant companion.”
While doing a radio remote in Roseville, O’Neal found what would become her parents’ next cat. “There was a kitten stuck in a drain, so I called the Roseville fire department. They put the hose in and washed that cat out of the sewer drain. So there was this drenched little gray cat. I brought it home, and my dad fell in love with it.”
O’Neal also volunteers her time with several charitable organizations. She sits on the Media and Marketing Committee of the Sacramento SPCA and emceed its annual fundraising gala for 25 years. “We have the SPCA Pet of the Week on my web page at KFBK. I’m always liking and retweeting adoption stuff,” she adds. The state’s former first lady, Maria Shriver, recommended O’Neal to the board of the California Museum. She also assists Sacramento Children’s Home in numerous ways and serves on the board of The Salvation Army. “They are so kindhearted. They do much more than people know. And they are really quiet and humble about it, and that’s why I love them.”
O’Neal, a singer/songwriter, and Spataro, a guitarist, met in their 20s while performing in cover rock bands. After putting their musical calling on hold to follow their current career paths, they are now creating music again as part of an alternative-rock band called Skyler’s Pool. One of their 10 original songs, called “Mr. Blue,” was inspired by their cat. “It is not about Blue at all, but he was the inspiration because he is kind of doglike, always so happy. I thought what would it be like to live life where your every need was met, somebody constantly loved you. That is what ‘Mr. Blue’ is about—an idyllic life.”
O’Neal’s love for animals is big. “It runs so deep,” she says. “Sometimes I step back and I think I have this creature living in the house with me … several of them,” she adds with a laugh. “And I am feeding it, and we have a relationship, and it understands me and I understand it … and yet it is a totally different species. We take pets for granted, but when we really consider what’s happening in that human-pet relationship, it’s pretty extraordinary.
“Beyond that, I love the affection from an animal. I love taking care of them. It is a very special, unique bond that isn’t really replicated in any other way.”
Cathryn Rakich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.