During a recent meeting of the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council held at a local church, a white-haired stakeholder named Benjamin turned around in the pew where he was seated. He then jumped onto the top of the pew and strutted for a few steps before hopping down to the floor. Such antics would probably draw stares or a rebuke at other neighborhood council gatherings. But not at the Atwater meetings, where Benjamin’s behavior is not considered unusual – for a cat.
Benjamin, Ben for short, is an outdoor cat that has frequented the neighborhood council meetings at Christ’s Church of Griffith Park for about three years. Benjamin is described as an outgoing cat, friendly and not known to bite. During meetings, the cat is often seen rubbing against attendees’ legs, poking around the pews and soliciting petting from visitors. The predominantly white-coated feline has also walked across the Board of Governors table during meetings, according to a council member.
“He’s an active stakeholder and attends every meeting,” said Co-chair Courtney Morris. “He doesn’t abide by the rules of the board. He interjects himself whenever he pleases.”
Despite Benjamin’s habit of jumping on tables and propensity for triggering allergic reactions among some meeting goers, Morris said she appreciates his presence. “If any other stakeholder did that, we would kick them out,” she said.
The cat’s owner lives near the church, but, according to pastor Bruce Fleenor, the feline heads to the church for relief from the household’s dogs. Even after Benjamin has been removed from his indoor sanctuary, he finds his way back inside. The police responded to a security alarm inside the building. When the cops found no one inside, Fleenor suggested it might be a cat burglar. “They weren’t pleased,” he said with a small grin.
Education representative James Huegas, who has a mild allergy to cats, said Benjamin singled him out of the group of ten for petting. “He has a sixth sense of who’s allergic and goes to them first,” said the board member.
Benjamin also reportedly slobbers much like a canine. “You reach down to pet him and ‘ugh,’” said Fleenor, pulling his arm up to his chest and shaking his head.
Benjamin declined to comment for the story.
Not everyone is crazy about a council cat. Morris remembers a time when Benjamin leaped onto a woman’s lap in mid-speech as she requested the council’s monetary support. She asked for the cat to be removed.
At a recent month’s meeting, the cat honored the council by visiting during a question-and-answer session with a representative of the City Attorney, who referred to the cat while addressing the audience. The exchange served as a contrast of the choreographed professionalism of city government and the folksy warmth of hyper-local neighborhood councils.
“It makes everything more fun,” said in co-chair Torin Dunnavant.
Tony Cella is a freelance reporter who has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.