A new home for a homeless cat

Published March 1, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Sure, they lived long, comfy lives. All of them till the age of 17, which is pretty good for cats. But a year full of death is hard on the people who loved them - Pushka, Garfield, then little Sweet Pea, who died one night in November.

"Enough," Helen Bentley told her husband, Dale, after they had Sweet Pea cremated and brought her ashes home. "It hurts too much."

He agreed.

They decided they were done with cats.

The Bentleys - retirees who live part time in New Port Richey and go home to Illinois in the summer - either threw away or gave away everything. The litter boxes. Toys. Leftover food. Food containers.

No cats. No chance of another broken heart.

But as the months passed, life just wasn't the same without a pet. On Feb. 15, Helen, 67, opened up the St. Petersburg Times and saw a story about Puddy Tat, a 5-year-old brawny white cat whose owner, Walter Sweschnikow, killed another man and then himself in November. A woman named Shirley Jedele had taken Puddy Tat into her home, but he played too rough for her girl cats. Puddy Tat needed to be an only child.

So Shirley put him up for adoption at the PetSmart on Little Road in Trinity.

There was something about his story and photo that just reached inside Helen's heart.

"You know," Helen told her husband. "I'd really like to have that Puddy Tat."

"Let's go," said Dale, 68.

So, that afternoon, they went to the store and met Puddy Tat, who was sweet but a little frightened, as most cats would be in an adoption center. The Bentleys filled out an application and went home to wait.

"We don't have a chance," Helen said. She thought too many people would want Puddy Tat as much as she did. She put his photo from the newspaper out on a table and looked at it every day. She resigned herself to fate - if Puddy Tat was meant to live with them, it would happen.

That Sunday, they got the call.

They had been chosen as Puddy's new owners.

Helen and Dale went right then to pick him up at PetSmart. They had to buy everything all over again: litter box, food, containers, toys, carrier.

When they got home, Puddy Tat hid under the bed for 10 minutes. Then he came out, searched around, and hasn't hidden since.

"He is just a sweetie," Helen said Wednesday afternoon, as Puddy Tat napped in his favorite chair, which is beside the dining room table he loves food, though the Bentleys have cut out human food because it's bad for him.

He loves tummy rubs and head rubs. Wednesday morning, Helen and Dale slept in a little later than usual. Helen woke to hear her husband laughing. Puddy Tat had jumped on the bed and was licking his face.

"I think he was saying, 'Get up. I'm hungry,' " Helen said.

Puddy Tat has been the talk of Orchid Lake Travel Resort, the park where the Bentleys live in New Port Richey. People have been coming by every day to see him and bring him toys. Helen has asked people to not come in the afternoons. That's when Puddy Tat has his main snooze, and he doesn't take a liking to being disturbed.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.