Realtor Lenora Marshall was showing a house that was for sale on her own Cape Coral, Florida, street about six years ago when something gray darted out of one of the empty rooms.
The potential buyers were surprised, and asked Marshall if that gray flash they glimpsed was a cat.
“That’s just Louie,” Marshall recalls telling them, adding that he probably sneaked in while she was disabling the home alarm. “He’s the neighborhood cat.”
For about a decade, the residents of this neighborhood have collectively cared for Louie, a cat that acts more like a dog in the way he follows the neighbors around, purring when they bend down to scratch his belly; or a king in the way he’s offered food and soft pillows to sleep on.
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All the neighbors leave food for Louie, and he gets through each day taking whatever else he needs as he goes along: He’s got a feather pillow to sleep on in Marshall’s garage when it’s nice out, and a warm spot under the front bumper of a car at the Kudrna home when it’s chilly. He gets his flea treatment every year from Bill Medler, and the last neighbor to leave during the Hurricane Irma evacuation, Trish Sullivan, made sure he had food, water and catnip hidden in the bushes so he would stay protected.
Marshall said every morning, Louie taps on her window and meets noses with her own cat at her front door, right before she feeds him. Then throughout the day, he travels around the block, greeted and adored by all the residents who see him.
“When we go away, we pay somebody to look after Louie,” Marshall said, adding that she instructs the caretaker to feed Louie Fancy Feast if it’s a holiday instead of normal, dry food.
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He’s made a name for himself outside the block as well: Marshall said her friends in Australia ask how he’s doing, and UPS deliverers ask about him too.
Louie’s appeal might lie in the fact that he’s always around. Marshall, who has lived on the block for about 14 years, said she explained to some of her newer neighbors who had just moved in that they’d be getting a cat, “whether you like it or not.”
“He popped up on our doorstep pretty much right away,” said Darlene Medler, who moved in with her husband three years ago. She said Louie comes to greet them when they go for walks in the evening.
Bill Medler said Louie has built a sense of community on the block and given him and his neighbors a common purpose. Darlene Medler said Louie was the first thing they worried about when they evacuated to Illinois during Irma.
“I wasn’t worried about anybody else, about their lives — I was worried about Louie!” Darlene Medler said. “He’s just a wonderful, wonderful cat.”
Louie’s original owners live on the block, too. Lisa Cushion said she got Louie from a friend in North Fort Myers about 12 or 13 years ago, when he was just a kitten.
One of many pets in the house, Louie was kicked out after about two years because he kept pooping in the bedroom, she said, adding “he never came back.”
Now he generally stays away from his old house, though Cushion said he’ll still wait by the basketball hoop set up near the street in front of the house to go on walks.
“Before I knew it, I was buying cat food”
On a chilly morning, Louie followed Marshall and I around the block as she and her neighbors shared Louie stories.
Cheryl Kudrna said her husband walked outside past her car one morning before turning around to ask her if she recalled hitting anything.
“All you see is a tail hanging under the front bumper,” Kudrna said. She and her husband hesitantly approached the tail unsure what it was or if it was alive.
Then it hit her.
“Louie! Louie!” she called. The sleeping cat didn’t budget until her husband used the keys to sound the car’s horn, and Louie went flying out. Kudrna said she was petrified of cats when she first moved in, but she’s come around to Louie.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I would gradually pet him and pet him, and before I knew it, I was buying cat food.”
Another neighbor, Phyllis Rieser, had a knee replacement about five years ago. She had to walk at least 30 minutes every day “to loosen it up,” so she and her husband Arthur would walk around the neighborhood with Louie in tow.
“Wherever we went, he went,” Phyllis Rieser said. “I’ve never had a cat like that.”
The Riesers say they, like other cat owners on the block, won’t let Louie inside for fear that he’s carrying diseases that might get their own cats sick. But they say all the neighbors ask about Louie when they see each other, always worried about him. They’re careful to use their brights when they drive down the street at night so they don’t hit him.
Arthur Rieser said Louie’s got to be an intelligent cat to have survived this long on his own. Cushion, Louie’s old owner, said she saw a coyote in a nearby field a couple months ago, and she’s convinced a coyote took one of her other cats. She said Louie is the only outdoor cat in the area.
Marshall says she’s noticed signs of Louie’s aging. He’s not as spry when he jumps around as he used to be, she said. Phyllis Rieser worried that “one of these days, we don’t know where he’s going to be.”
But for now, he remains king of his Florida town, and in the words of Bill Medler, “a thread that winds through the whole neighborhood.”