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RSS feature story: The most famous cat in Decorah

Posted: Sun, Mar 8, 2020 11:58 AM
Photo courtesy of Nick Chill

The owners of "Lulu and BB's" pet supply store in downtown Decorah are reasonable, practical business people.  So it made sense for Brent and Tovah Steinhofer to look into adding a shop cat.  After all, they are in an old building and have lots and lots of pet treats and food all around their store. Adopting a fearless, rodent-fighting feline would be a strategic business move.

"But really that's just a bunch of malarkey," says Brent. "We had set traps, and we hadn't caught a single one. We have that excuse for adopting a shop cat, but really we're just suckers for animals and can't help it."  That's evident when he lists off all of their animals: their dogs Luca (Lulu) and Waylon, and their cats BB and Oshie. 

Regardless of the motivation, the night before having a H.E.A.R.T. (Helping Every Animal Rescue Team) adoption event at the store last August, the Steinhofers decided to take a peek at the group's website to, in Brent's words, "just see what was available."  After seeing a picture of one adoptable kitty, they called one of the coordinators at H.E.A.R.T.  To their surprise, the person said she thought of them when the kitten was initially rescued.  The rescue group brought in the kitty the next day at an adoption event, and "Lulu and BB's" hasn't been the same since with the addition of their beloved Gigi.

Naming Gigi was unintentionally a family affair, with the Steinhofers' 6-year-old son Greyden declaring her name as set.  As Brent and Tovah discussed how they wanted to use a French name that took into consideration Gigi's prominent beauty mark, Tovah half-heartedly proposed "Gigi."  Greydon heard the name and said, "Her name is Gigi!"  He then went on to repeat this until Brent and Tovah agreed.

The Steinhofers knew right from the beginning that Gigi was there to make her presence known.  From the time she entered the store, Gigi acted like she owned the place. For the last six months, she has made herself known as the official  greeter for customers and their pets and for people just passing by.  She is often seen running around the black trim work above all the products in the store.  She acts like it was put there just for her enjoyment.

Gigi takes pride in serving as an ambassador for the TNR program.  TNR, which stands for "trap, neuter, release," is a program to lower the number of feral cats in an area.  Upon meeting Gigi, many people ask about her clipped ear, which is the common marking for a cat that has been fixed in the TNR program.  The Steinhofers take the opportunity to educate curious people.

Brent explains, "Gigi and her littermates were found under a trailer after being delivered by a feral cat.  The rescue was alerted about the situation and took the litter to a vet to have each kitten fixed. The plan was to take the litter to a farm to be barn cats.  For whatever reason, the males didn't accept the two females."  This meant Gigi was left to find a different permanent home.

It's uncommon for feral felines to acclimate to being domesticated, but Gigi has proven to be unique in this area, too.  Brent remarks, "When a cat is brought to a new place, it usually runs and hides to acclimate a little bit. But not Gigi!"

The list for what makes Gigi an uncommon feline goes on and on.  One of Brent's favorites on the list is how people will bring in their pets just to see Gigi and socialize with her.  During one of Gigi's playdates, Brent saw her actually riding around the store on a dog's back.  She'll wrestle with dogs, big or small, and loves to show off her playfulness, even with a nearly 100-pound Newfoundland puppy.  "Don't tell her she's a cat; you'll confuse her!" laughs Brent.

And it's not just pets that stop in for some Gigi attention.  Brent lists a handful of people who stop in every day just to see her.  "What's really special is that people that come here not to shop but to see her.  She brings a bright spot for people's day.  That's the value in Gigi."  For students stopping in after school, police officers stopping by after a meeting, and for a widow who stops in many times a day, Gigi is making the day more enjoyable.

As they get ready for their business' second anniversary on St. Patrick's Day, the Steinhofers have lots of reasons to celebrate. One reason is that they are now the proud owners of the most famous cat in Decorah.