Offbeat stories: Halloween rent-a-cats

Spending 12 years writing for United Press International certainly honed my interest in finding offbeat and unusual stories, especially if they meshed somehow with a particular holiday or news event. As Halloween approached in the early 90s, I decided to call the local Humane Society to see if there were any black cat-related things going on. Sure enough, I found this story –people calling the Humane Society to see if they could rent black cats for their Halloween parties.

Pet adoptions have been a little slow at the Humane Society of North Pinellas, but the phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from people who want to rent cats for Halloween parties.

But even though the Humane Society has about 50 cats, none of them are for rent, not now and not ever, according to Rick Chaboudy, the Humane Society’s director.

“I think people are getting into more elaborate Halloween parties and they try to think of everything,” Chaboudy said. “We try to explain we don’t do things like that – it would be a tremendous amount of stress on the cat, plus we don’t want to give the impression we approve of activities like that.

“We are here to find permanent homes for our cats, not to rent them out as decorations.”

For some cats, particularly black ones, the season can be dangerous.

Connie Goy suspects that someone tried to skin her black cat, Calvin, alive as a gruesome Halloween prank.

When Mrs. Goy returned from the grocery store Thursday afternoon, she found Calvin lying in a pool of blood in the garage. Her other cat, Hobbes, was at his side, meowing and tapping Calvin, who was still alive, with his paw.

“Hobbes was . . . meowing real loud like, `He’s hurt. Can you do something?’ ” said Mrs. Goy, 30. “I started crying.”

One of Calvin’s hind legs had a precise cut, 1 inch long, according to the veterinarian, Dr. Gursaear Singh. It had severed an artery in his right leg. Mrs. Goy and her husband, David, rushed Calvin to All Pet Care Hospital & Animal Inn where he was recovering Friday.

The cut, Mrs. Goy said, was too exact for Calvin to have injured himself.

“About this time of year you never know. It’s just sad that there are people that would do such a thing,” Mrs. Goy said. “It makes me sick.”

The interest in using the Humane Society as a sort of Rent-A-Cat agency is a fairly new twist, Chaboudy said. Calls inquiring about renting cats have been steadily increasing during the past few Octobers. About a half-dozen such calls have come into the Humane Society during the past week, he said.

“It has to be black, and they seem to think if they call early enough they can reserve one,” he said. “And it’s funny – some people feel a little foolish after we turn them down, but others act put out that we won’t accommodate them. They say things like, `Well, we aren’t going to hurt it’ or `We’ll bring it back afterwards’ – like we’re wrong in not letting this happen.”

Even if the Humane Society did rent cats, Halloween party-givers probably would be a little disappointed at the present selection. Chaboudy said of the 50 or so cats, none of them are completely black.

“We do have a few black-and-white cats, but that’s as close as they come,” he said. “If we did have black cats right now, we might not put them out for adoption until Halloween was over.”

And as for Calvin, whether his injuries are Halloween-related or not, Mrs. Goy said, he’ll spend the rest of his days indoors.

“He’s going to be a house cat from now on.”


Feature writing: Small community in Maine boasts unique film society

Another feature story in the UPI/wire service style. Maine was an absolute treasure trove of offbeat stories…


MOUNT VERNON, Maine (UPI) – The Strange Fellows Film Society, consisting of two seventh graders and a 31-year-old scrap metal worker, hangs up a makeshift screen every other Friday and brings the likes of Marlon Brando and W.C. Fields to the Mount Vernon Schoolhouse.

The film society was born around Christmastime, when the scrap metal worker, Joe McLaren, decided that good movies would be way to beat the winter doldrums in Mount Vernon, which consists of a general store, a small hardware store and about 400 people.

“Besides, there have only been about four movies worth seeing around here this year,” McLaren said. There are movie theaters in Augusta, Farmington and Waterville, but all are about 20 miles away.

Mount Vernon offered a unique facility for movies, as well, a fine old Odd Fellows Hall, complete with ticket window. McLaren made tentative arrangements to rent the hall, and then went to see about securing the films.

“We had some trouble,” McLaren said. “We found we could get the films if we were a film society and didn’t make a profit. That was okay with us, and now we accept donations, enough to cover the cost of the films. Actually, so far, I’ve lost money every week.”

The worst part after McLaren got the films: the Odd Fellows decided not to rent the hall because of insurance restrictions.

“It would have been great at the hall,” McLaren said. “But this really hasn’t worked out bad. Mr. Gordon, the principal, has been helpful and so has everyone else.”

McLaren’s partners are John Jones, 12, and Mark Kelley, 13, students at Mount Vernon School. Mark’s sister, Dale, made the movie screen out of artist’s canvas, and both Mark and John help McLaren set up the screen and projector.

The first movie was “Requiem for a Heavyweight” with Anthony Quinn, and the showing was something less than a raving success.

“It was a real cold night and the school had shut off the heat,” McLaren said. “We had about 50 people here and it was about 45 degrees in the room. A lot of people left early.”

So far, the Strange Fellows Film Society has managed to solve its problems and bring good films to Mount Vernon. McLaren feels that if the venture succeeds through the winter, The going will be easier in summertime when the summer residents come back to town.

“We’re having ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ with Marlon Brando next Friday,” he said. “If you come, you better bring your overcoat.”