PLYMOUTH — A little over a year ago, on the morning of July 18, a kitten was found sleeping on top of a refrigerator behind Opie’s restaurant in downtown Plymouth. The next morning, there were two kittens and their mother. ‘A.J.’ from Opie’s took both kittens home. The mother cat was too thin and too young for the ordeal of motherhood. Shiloh Milner brought her to her clothing boutique, The Black Cat Clothing Store. Milner gave her refuge there as she allowed her to come and go as she pleased out the back door.
Milner told her employees, “It would be crazy to have a shop cat, right?”
Coincidentally, store employee Anja Houin had been begging her boss for months to get a store cat. Milner said, “I wasn’t going to go out and buy a cat.” She didn’t have to.
Soon everyone at the store fell in love with the feisty feline and named her ‘Cleo’. After all, she was sort of black; grey really, and it was the Black Cat Clothing Store - close enough. The plan was to let her sleep in the store during the day and to bring her home with Milner after the store closed shop for the night.
Milner recalled the first time she took her home. “I was looking forward to a night of snuggling. Cleo was not one bit happy.” After incessant meowing on Cleo’s part, Milner’s son brought her back to the store at 3 a.m. in the morning. She had been there ever since.
Inside the store Cleo was a dynamo as she chased after objects thrown on the floor, amusing herself as she pursued them as if she were hunting mice. Milner remembered Cleo hiding under the clothing racks. “It was one of her favorite past times.” Cleo would leap out from under the cover of clothing in pursuit of enticing movement and then retreat as quickly. Milner laughed, “Cleo loved hiding one of my worker’s slippers.”
Cleo played both high and low. She jumped to the top of the clothing racks to take her ‘cat naps’; sleeping so soundly that the affectionate petting from patrons would not disturb her rest. At one point, Cleo used her perch as a launch to penetrate through the ceiling. Cleo explored the highest level of the store while frenzied staff searched for her until they found her the following day.
Cleo’s day was not limited to playful pouncing and cat napping. Shiloh and employee Courtney remembered how much Cleo delighted in greeting every customer. Though she did not enjoy being picked up, she still performed for attention and affection when shoppers entered. She charmed them with her antics by playing hard to get and at other times enjoyed the simple pleasure of a belly rub.” Milner said, “Many people came in the store just to see Cleo. Quentin (Price) came to visit her every day after he got off school.”
It was these customer appreciation moments that led Cleo to explore the world in front of the store. From the beginning, it was an obsession for her to wait until unsuspecting customers opened the door to enter the shop. Cleo seized those opportunities to bolt out onto the sidewalk where she was free to roam downtown from the Rees to the City Building. When she wasn’t roaming, Cleo playfully hunted fallen leaves or simply laid on the concrete as the sun warmed her fur.
When Cleo tired of these shenanigans, she would search for open store fronts where she entered at will to explore other downtown businesses. One of her favorite visits was to owner of The Floor Store, Rocky Talcott where she hid and played among the carpet piles. Katie Kain of Opie’s Deli recounted when Cleo slipped into the restaurant and then proceeded onto the bar where she leapt on to a vacant bar stool to engage in a staring contest with one of the patrons. Opie’s owner Jim Vinall added, “She didn’t have her I.D. so we couldn’t serve her.” Cleo didn’t seem to want to leave one evening and was discovered the next morning by a frantic Shiloh.
Searching for Cleo was not uncommon. One of her prolonged absences precipitated an all night search party that ended when her muffled cries were detected from Bowman’s Tin Shop.
Most nights were less hectic and she simply stayed ‘home’ and slept among the window displays. Milner said, “From the window, Cleo spent hours dreaming or keeping an eye on her beloved downtown.”
Soon Cleo’s curious nature drew her under parked cars to embrace the warmth remaining from the car engine. Though Milner worried about Cleo’s well being, she wanted her to live her fullest life. “As difficult as it was to let her out everyday and worry about her, it was heartbreaking to force her to remain inside.”
For over a year this was Cleo’s life. In September of this year Cleo started crossing Michigan St. It was Monday, September 23 that Cleo was accidentally hit by a car. Shiloh’s husband Josh immediately rushed Cleo to the vet but they were unable to save her. Shiloh, who had been at work, was devastated.
Vinall said, “It was our cat, not just Shiloh’s, or the Black Cat’s. It was Connie and Jackie at the Chamber’s cat, and Rocky’s at the floor store, and Anja’s, and - well, Cleo was everyone in Plymouth’s cat.”
Shiloh agrees with Kristin Cast who said, “It has been said of cats that they choose us, we don’t own them.”
So in a window, and in a store, and on a sidewalk, and in a door, and on a street, in one block of downtown Plymouth, lived a cat, who reminded us that the simple pleasures of life are there if you only look.
Words of comfort for Shiloh were expressed on social media and in person conveying gratitude for sharing Cleo and having the courage to let Cleo live the life she wanted.