Dennis McCarthy has the day off.
This column by Dennis McCarthy was originally printed on Nov. 7, 1996 in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Once in a while a story comes along that makes you shake your head and smile — gives you a feeling you can’t exactly put your finger on, but you know it’s something special.
And that makes you shake your head and smile all over again.
There’s this cat living over in Sylmar who, paws down, has to be the most faithful feline in the whole country today.
She makes Lassie and Rin Tin Tin look like a couple of two-timing ingrates.
For almost three years now — ever since the Northridge Earthquake rocked the Valley — this cat has been waiting for its owners to come back to their red-tagged condo.
Every day, every night, rain or shine, just sitting there waiting — existing on the handouts of people in the neighborhood who just shake their heads and smile whenever they drive by and see her.
People like Bill Marrujo.
“If she’s that faithful to whoever owns her, I think they should know she came back, and is waiting for them to come home,” says Marrujo, who figures the cat probably panicked and ran away when the earthquake hit, returning home days later to an empty condo.
It’s a long shot finding the owners after this much time has gone by, he admits, but after almost three years of waiting, this cat has earned any shot it can get.
Who knows? Maybe the people are still living in the Valley, and read this newspaper.
“It hits you hard, just watching her sitting out there, waiting for them to come home, day after day,” says Marrujo, who nicknamed the cat Sweetheart.
Most cats roam. Not this one, he says.
The condo complex is located on Foothill Boulevard in Sylmar, and it hasn’t been touched since the windows were boarded up and a chain-link fence was placed around it shortly after the earthquake.
“The people living there just walked away and never came back,” Marrujo says. “It’s the only place left in Sylmar that hasn’t been fixed up after the earthquake.”
It was about 10 days after the quake that he noticed the cat just sitting there in front of one of the condos, says Marrujo, who lives just down the block.
“My wife, Rose, and I used to drive by every day wondering what the cat was doing in this abandoned place, day after day, not going anywhere,” he says.
“After a while, we noticed food was being put out for her, so we knew that other people living in the neighborhood also had begun noticing her. We began feeding her, too.”
Once in a while, Marrujo would notice a few people trying to coax the friendly black cat to come with them, but she never would.
Marrujo even tried himself last month when the weather started turning cold at night and he began to get a little lonely.
His wife, Rose, passed away six months ago, and after 15 years, he had to put his dog to sleep. Maybe Sweetheart could be a new companion.
“I brought her home one night, and she stayed for about three hours,” he says, shaking his head. “But the first time I opened the screen door, she was gone like a shot.
“I walked down to the condos the next morning. She was just sitting there, still waiting.”
Marrujo won’t call the animal regulation department. He’s afraid that if they come for the cat and she’s not adopted in the shelter, she’ll be put to sleep.
Besides, he says, she’s not a stray roaming the streets. She has an address, a home.
This cat didn’t run away. Her owners did. All she’s doing is waiting for them to come home.
“You know, that cat has more guts and fortitude than any animal I’ve ever seen,” Marrujo says Wednesday, after stopping by the boarded up condos to feed Sweetheart and spend some time with her.
“What’s it been now, almost three years since the earthquake, and she’s still not giving up? Now that’s one faithful pet.”
Yeah, she is. Makes you shake your head and smile.
Update: Dennis McCarthy’s column on March 12, 1999 reported that a reader of the initial 1996 column was able to rescue Sweetheart and re-home the black cat at her home in Simi Valley. At the time, the reader/cat rescuer put up a sign on the red-tagged Sylmar condo to alert others that Sweetheart was safe and loved.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.