CARSON CITY, NV - The sign outside Carson City's Comma Coffee beckons the blue-suited power brokers from the legislative building right across the street, but walk through the doors on any given day and you'll meet a fairly eclectic collection of humanity. Lobbyists rubbing elbows with office workers. A rabbi hosting a Torah Study Group some days. A Mah-Jong Club on others.
These days one member of this small community is missing, in exile actually. Five years after showing up as a stray kitten, the shop's official mascot, pest control executive and customer relations executive, Small Cat, as she's known ,has been 86'd after an anonymous spoilsport complained of her presence.
Faced with an edict from local health officials to get rid of her or lose her license, Joplin took Small Cat to her home. It hasn't been a happy move for anyone.
"I know I sound silly, but she's stressed," says owner June Joplin. "She's not home. She's confused and she doesn't seem happy."
Neither are patrons back at the Coffee Shop.
"You know, I have to say I'm allergic to cats and I miss the cat. She's the essence of the place."
Businessman Tom Fuge looks up from his laptop to agree. "It was great having a cat here. Just relaxed."
Joplin says Small Cat earned her keep. There have been no mice in this old building since her arrival. And everyone insists she stayed clear of the kitchen, preferring instead to stroll the tables and chairs greeting customers, which have included in recent years, presidents and presidential wannabes.
In the leadup to Nevada's first high-profile presidential caucus Comma Coffee was on every candidate's must-stop list. The President, Vice President and Secretary of State, among others, were all here, Joplin notes, they had no problem sharing the site with Small Cat.
Maybe that's because she treated the powerful and powerless equally with the capricious friendliness or disdain only a cat can truly pull off. Joe Biden packed the place in the spring of 2007. He might have had the crowd's attention when he stopped by. Small Cat napped through his pitch.
Now as she gazes wisfully out the window of Joplin's home toward her familiar surroundings blocks away, we might imagine her remembering those days and her friends back at the coffee house. wondering if she'll ever return. Turns out they're doing the same.
"Not a day goes by, people are asking when she going to come back?" says Joplin "Is she going to come back? We've had so many people that were upset and angry that she was gone."
It only takes a suggestion to focus those feelings into a demand for action, in this case a petition drive. A posting on My Space leads internet browsers to an on-line petition. As of Thursday 230 had signed up, leaving comments proclaiming affection for Small Cat and heaping shame on the unknown complainer. Another 160 or so have signed a petition at Comma Coffee's counter.
Joplin doesn't blame the health department for doing its job but she's stil hopeful, seeking a variance and offering to post a sign in the window warning all who enter of Small Cat's presence inviting any who object to take their business elsewhere. It doesn't seem many would.