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The Alamo Cats
San Antonio, Texas
The centuries-old former mission church and battleground of Texan independence in San Antonio now a museum and tourist attraction has had cats before. There are records in the diary of a Mexican soldier of a feline roaming the grounds in 1836, the year of the famous battle; unfortunately, taking it as a sign of bad luck, Mexican troops shot and killed it.
A happier story unfolded in 1981, when a night patrolman for the Alamo Rangers, Ranger Kaetz, came across a kitten apparently stuck up a tree. He coaxed it down with some milk and it followed him back to his office, where it shared a little chicken from his lunchbox, then promptly curled up and went to sleep on his desk. He left it there for the night, but in the morning thought he should put it out of the back gate rather than leaving it on the premises.
When he returned the next night the little tortoiseshell (calico) kitten greeted him again, and the next and successive nights. Eventually Kaetz went to see the librarians in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) Library to ask them what he should do about the little visitor. It turned out that she had also made friends with one of the day guards, Kensey, was known as 'Kensey’s Kitten' and had been given permission to remain and be 'the Alamo cat' provided she went for a health check-up and to have her vaccinations. The vet said she was too young to be spayed.
She made herself at home, was given the name Ruby LeGato, made friends with the local squirrels, found favourite snoozing places, and continued to join the guards on their rounds particularly Ranger Kaetz on the night shift. As the year came to a close she seemed to become rather plump, and it was realised that, although just a youngster herself, she was going to have kittens! On 2 February 1982 she produced six babies, several with only stumps for tails, in a special cosy 'den' that Kaetz had prepared for her in a warm and dark corner of the Long Barracks. Someone called the newspaper, which sent a reporter, and then a TV news camera crew arrived. Ruby was unperturbed by all the attention and just got on with looking after her kittens. They were the first babies known to have been born in the Alamo grounds, and received many visitors in what became known as 'the nursery'.
As time went by the kittens grew apace, and homes were readily found for them when they were weaned and old enough to leave their mother. By that time, having successfully reared all the youngsters, Ruby was ready to resume her nightly patrols having at some point been awarded, on the basis of her guarding abilities, a 'certificate of completion' of the Basic Security Officer Training course from San Antonio College! However, before she took up her duties again the opportunity was taken to have her spayed, as no more kittens were needed at the Alamo.
A few weeks later Kaetz had a few days off and asked his fellow guards to look after Ruby. But when he returned, Kensey was standing waiting for him at the gate with bad news: Ruby had drowned. What had happened no one knew; a raccoon might have scared her and caused her to fall in, or she might have been harassed by a mocking bird, as had happened once before. Kaetz and the others missed her greatly.
Permission was given for Ruby to be buried in a spot by the north wall; a wooden marker was placed there, since replaced by a bronze plaque (see below). She will always be part of the Alamo's history, the more so as she was immortalised in a 1988 book for older children by Rita Kerr, The Alamo Cat (Eakin Press, Austin, TX; ISBN 0-89015-639-5: see our review in Folios).
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Some 10 years later a new guardian for the Alamo turned up in the shape of a feral black-and-white cat with 'vibrant golden eyes'; but she was unkempt and hissed at anyone who approached her. She had a litter of kittens in the grounds, but all died. Later there was a second litter, this time all healthy and subsequently adopted. In 1997 she was spayed, became 'much more personable' and was christened Mistress Clara Carmack, although everyone knew her as C.C. (Clara Driscoll was an Alamo preservationist who was largely responsible for preventing its demolition, Mary Carmack an Alamo Committee chairperson.)
C.C. became well known and as well as her guard duties she was used to greeting tourists and posing for their cameras. The Alamo shop featured her on calendars, bookmarks, ornaments and the like; meanwhile she continued to earn her keep by patrolling regularly and keeping the place rodent-free. When off duty she liked to take position on a desk in the library and assist with historical research; and she had a cat door into the greenhouse another good place for a snooze. A favourite spot for sleeping most afternoons was the couch in the employee lounge. Her other pastimes included looking longingly at koi carp swimming in a pond, but they were much too big to catch; and if she was feeling friendly she might tag along on a tour and occasionally! roll over and allow an animal lover to scratch her tummy.
According to maintenance workers, C.C. was bilingual and understood some Spanish as well as English. She featured in Texas newspapers and on the internet, and many visitors came to see her and take photos. One even made a quilt in her honour (left), which was displayed in the gift shop along with the popular lines of calendars, bookmarks, T-shirts and other souvenirs in her likeness that were for sale. Everyone on the staff looked after C.C. 'She's our guard kitty and the grounds are her territory,' said one employee. 'We may be her caretakers, but she's in charge here.'
In March 2011 C.C. appeared in an episode of Animal Planet's Must Love Cats TV show in America, but by mid-2014, after some 18 years of rodent patrols and greeting and delighting visitors, C.C. was succumbing to old age and she became ill. When she was no longer able to eat even her special diet, it was felt it was time and it would be kinder to put her to sleep. She died in July 2014 and was buried beside Ruby a plaque similar to Ruby's was made to form a joint memorial. The San Antonio Express-News published an article about C.C. and her life.
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In June 2015, almost a year after C.C.'s passing, new Alamo cat Bella took up her duties. She had been found as a stray kitten in the grounds of the Presidio la Bahia, in Goliad, Texas, by the director's daughter, and they brought her to the Alamo when they were visiting. She's a semi-longhaired calico, and as she grew into quite a regal-looking lady the Alamo staff felt she should have an appropriate name. Her full name is thus Miss Isabella Francisca Veramendi de Valero.
Bella has made the Education Department office her base, from where she goes out each morning to patrol the grounds before visitors arrive. She loves welcoming and greeting visitors, and tour groups tend to get held up while she's petted! The Alamo staff care for her and meet all her expenses. See the Texas GLO page for full information, some more pictures and an account of how her formal name was derived.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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