When you step into Donna's by Design, a distinctive gift shop at 926 Main that features handcrafted items from local artists, you never know whether you'll be met by a Cunningham (Donna or one (or more) of her kids, a Baldwin - that's me, I work there sometimes), or a cat.
Yes, a cat. Or two. You see, Donna's by Design is really a clever front for the owners, George and Gracie. They own the place, and we all work for them. At least, that's what George would have you believe. That's the way she acts, too.
George is a two-year-old female cat, Store Cat #1. She's all black with the exception of some white markings on her underbelly that look for all the world like a bikini. I wouldn't put it past her. George is fairly laid back, but she'll let you know if your services (e.g., scratching behind her ears or petting her) are no longer needed. She is friendly to humans, other cats, and even dogs, as long as they are behaving themselves.
Store Cat #2 Gracie recently turned one. She is a beautifully marked tabby cat who talks a LOT. Must be some Siamese in her background somewhere. She has always been a little shy, but usually takes her social cues from George - if George thinks it's okay, well, then, maybe it bears investigating. She is leery of everyone and everything, especially dogs, whom she thinks are the oddest looking cats she has ever seen. But once she decides you're okay, she'll happily allow you to pat her and love on her while she tells you all about it.
Besides being the de facto owners of Donna's by Design, they are also guard cats. There isn't anything that gets by them while the store is without human occupants. They keep the 100+++ year old building free from vermin and miscellaneous insects, and they are quick to offer their opinions on new inventory.
George and Gracie are also very entertaining. When the two start "feeling their oats", they huff up and dance at one another, tails 3 times larger than normal. The carpeted walls at the back of the shop (left over from when it was the frame shop) provide the perfect surface for making a quick escape to the storage loft when they've decided they've had enough of our nonsense.
They have their own "fan club", too, folks who make a special stop into the shop just to fawn over them. Then there's the product line "George Says...", handcrafted items that are decidedly for our four-legged friends. And they are frequent guest posters on the Donna's by Design facebook page. Having an opinion - and the desire to share it with those less cerebrally inclined (which is everyone, according to George) - makes George generally pleased to use facebook for her own observations.
But probably the most important service George and Gracie provide is inspiration. Even if you don't fancy yourself a cat person, you kind of have to admit they are regal creatures. They know the value of a good nap, a patch of warm sunshine, and stretching that works the kinks out of every muscle. They are great models for life drawing... well, okay, when they're napping, mostly... and they remind us that, whether one life or nine, it's what you do with that life while you're in it that counts. I call it 'the art of cat', and even though I'm surrounded by dogs at home, when I'm at Donna's, I often think we could all do with taking a page or two from George and Gracie's books.
Stop by and visit sometime... they're always there, even if you can't see them.