An orange tabby that roamed the hallways and staircases of the New Fountain homeless shelter on West Cordova Street was much more than a cat, says one of the regular contributors to the Mista Muggins Facebook page.
“Mista Muggins was a true co-worker that understood the dynamics of the job,” said New Fountain co-manager Zoran Barazanci. “He was the best worker. He never got burned out and he never had to call me at 3 a.m.”
Muggins never left the shelter, but last Friday he was spooked by ongoing construction and darted outside, according to Barazanci. The skinny ginger cat was later hit by a car and killed. Muggins was almost four-years-old.
Barazanci said identifying the tabby at the Vancouver Animal Control shelter was one of the hardest things he’s done.
“They had him in a box and he looked as photogenic as ever,” said Barazanci of the cat, famous for the many photos posted on his Facebook page. A likeness of Muggins was added to a mural located at the New Fountain and last year a fan painted his likeness on canvas.
Barazanci added the cat’s patience while posing for the camera was one of the reasons there are so many photos of him.
“We could take pictures of him for 90 minutes and he knew just what he was supposed to do,” said Barazanci.
He said Muggins had an uncanny ability to seek out the staff member or clients who needed him most.
“If someone had a bad shift, they’d chat with Muggins,” said Barazanci. “Even big scary-looking guys with prison tattoos would melt when Mista Muggins would curl up with them. People would be so happy when he chose to sleep with them that they’d tell us about it the next day. They’d buy toys for him and food. He was so spoiled because he was so loved.”
Former New Fountain manager and park board chair Sarah Blyth agreed Muggins could sense who needed the most support on any given day.
“He made everybody happy and could diffuse any situation just by walking in the room,” said Blyth. “He made people feel warm and cozy in a place that could often be difficult. He was like a live hot water bottle.”
Blyth said the only time Muggins presented a challenge was during cleaning when he loved to leap out of nowhere into dustpans as the floors were being swept or crawl under sheets while staff members were attempting to make a bed.
“Out of all of the work all being done by all of the people in the Downtown Eastside, nothing compared to what Muggins accomplished,” said Blyth. “He was a good buddy and he will be missed.”
The Courier met Muggins during a tour of the shelter in March 2011, at a time when the provincial government was threatening to close the building down due to budget restraints. The fight to save the New Fountain was an epic one and Barazanci said Muggins was there every step of the way.
“Every time a politician or delegation from the government arrived, Mista Muggins would be there to charm them,” said Barazanci. “No one could say no to Mista Muggins.”
The Mista Muggins Facebook paged has been inundated with messages in response to the cat’s unexpected death. Barazanci, his co-workers from the Portland Hotel Society and fellow fans of Mista Muggins are organizing a public beach memorial service, the date and location yet to be confirmed. Barazanci expects more than 100 mourners to turn up to pay their last respects to the photogenic cat with the big heart. Check vancourier.com later this week for the time and place.