J.J., The Rhinoceros Times office cat, died Saturday of cancer. J.J. was 11 years old.
As an office cat, J.J. had a great deal of responsibility thrust on him at a young age. He proved to be capable at every task he was given, if somewhat overzealous at times.
Some offices have security systems, some have watch dogs, The Rhinoceros Times had J.J., who was responsible for security 24 hours a day, and solely responsible when everyone else left the office in the evenings and on weekends.
He never left his post or shirked his duties during the entire six years he was charged with security, and during that time The Rhinoceros Times had no break-ins or thefts.
Employees with that kind of dedication and success rate are difficult to find, but I have to admit that J.J. was not hired as a result of a nationwide search. He came to us and risked his life volunteering for the job.
In the summer of 2007, the late Jim Garrison was driving down West Market Street almost directly in front of The Rhinoceros Times office when a little black and white kitten ran in front of his car. Jim slammed on his brakes and avoided hitting the kitten, who took that opportunity to avoid the traffic by climbing up in the motor of Jim’s car.
Fortunately, another Rhinoceros Times employee, Norman James, happened to be out on the sidewalk and, while Jim held up traffic, Norman lay down in the street, reached up in the motor and pulled the kitten out.
Jim Garrison and Norman James then brought the one-and-a-half-pound greasy kitten up to the office and the kitten was promptly named Jimmy James, in honor of his two saviors, and established his new home in the in-box on the receptionist’s desk.
J.J. stuck to his new home long after many people thought he had outgrown it, overflowing the box on all sides. But the in-box was a good spot to keep track of all the comings and goings in the office.
During his training period as head of security, the Muse and I brought J.J. home every night, and he complained bitterly the entire way. Later we brought him home only on weekends, but once, when he hid so well we couldn’t find him for several hours, we decided he could spend all his time in the office and he was good with that.
J.J. did have some unusual beliefs. One was that women should not wear open-toed shoes to work. As a kitten he would let his displeasure be known by grabbing one of the offending appendages with his front paws and biting. As he grew older, he decided that a nip at the ankle was enough punishment.
Although J.J. was in charge of security, he did have help during the day. Our Australian shepherd mix Mina came to work every morning, checked in with J.J. and then retired to the editorial department. J.J. and Mina conversed regularly during the day about security concerns and became good friends.
Some of us believe that it was Mina’s influence that caused J.J. to behave more like a dog than a cat. J.J. wasn’t one to slink around next to the walls or behind furniture, J.J. sauntered right down the middle of the room and, if necessary for security purposes, would position himself in the middle of the floor so that everyone had to walk around him. He also came when he was called.
The relationship of our security team caused our classified ad manager, Melissa Smith, to put up a sign in the entrance that read: “Dog barks, doesn’t bite. Cat bites, doesn’t bark.” It was absolutely true.
The Rhinoceros Times office was on the second floor of the historic Irvin Arcade on West Market Street, and J.J., because his responsibilities were all on the second floor, refused to leave, even to go downstairs.
I was in charge of making sure he was fed on the weekend. If he thought I was late, I could hear him yowling as I unlocked the downstairs door. And I knew that I was in big trouble if, when I came upstairs, he was on the top step. He never came down below the top step no matter how late I was, but being on that top step meant that I was not keeping up my end of the bargain.
Also, at night when I was the only one in the office, J.J. would reward me by sleeping in my lap. He never once did it during the day, when he might be seen and someone could get the idea that he wasn’t as tough as he appeared, but he softened up at night.
In 2013, when The Rhinoceros Times went out of business, we left J.J. at the office for as long as possible but finally had to force him into early retirement and bring him home. He let us know that he didn’t like being retired one bit, in all the ways that cats have of communicating their displeasure. He had spent his entire life in that second floor office and really didn’t like the idea of becoming a house cat.
But overtime he adjusted. Going outside was a great adventure for J.J. and he would only do it at night. After a few years at home he would even venture into our large wooded backyard, but sometimes had difficulty finding his way back home.
J.J. also learned to appreciate flying squirrels and would go out at night with me to study them.
J.J. didn’t think it was healthy for people to eat alone and, while he was working, no one in our office ever ate alone. J.J. was willing to drop whatever he was doing and join anyone for lunch.
During the trial of former Sen. John Edwards, when Diane Dimond of Newsweek and the Daily Beast set up shop in our office, she had lunch with J.J. every day. After a couple of test runs Diane learned that J.J. much preferred tuna sandwiches, and for the six weeks of the trial Diane and J.J. shared a tuna sandwich every day at lunch.
J.J. met congressmen, state senators and representatives, county commissioners, mayors and city councilmembers. He had a keen interest in politics and would often attend candidate interviews.
I remember once when I was interviewing a mayoral candidate, in the midst of some long answer to a short question, the mayoral candidate jumped in her chair and said, “I think your cat just bit me.” I explained that he didn’t like long diatribes and if she kept her answers short it probably wouldn’t happen again. The interview ended not long after that.
J.J. was also a stickler for meals being served on time. His dinnertime was 6 p.m., and at 5:45 every day he would start letting us know that it was time to go in the kitchen. He also got a bedtime snack at midnight, and at 11:45, like clockwork, he would announce the time.
But he was not opposed to between-meal snacks and anytime anyone went in the kitchen they would find J.J. between their feet. He was an optimist about food and always believed that a chicken or big hunk of tuna might fall on the floor at any moment and was never surprised when a small portion did.
J.J. eventually adjusted to being a house cat and even learned to sit on top of furniture at times, though he always preferred the middle of the floor.
He was a good employee and a great cat and will be missed.