Larry the Watch Cat is Sorely Missed


The following was written by Tom Rademacher of The Grand Rapids Press. Turns out Larry the Watch Cat is missing from Michigan Coating Products.

Even if you are not a “cat person,” I urge you to read this column, because it’s more than a story about a feline.

Perhaps it’s a lesson in how we’re going to get our groove back.

Larry is the “watchcat” for Michigan Coating Products Inc., a small business at 601 Ionia Ave. SW.

“We make paint,” said John DeJong, a tinter there and one of eight employees.

In truth, Larry was the watchcat there. He has been missing for more than a week. And OK, Larry’s not a he. He’s a she.

“I just named her ‘Larry,'” said Steve Nelson, another tinter. “Oh, we knew she was a female.”

“So why ‘Larry?'” I asked.

Steve looked at me as though I had never understood a punch line.

“Why not?”

Larry first earned her keep at a hobby farm in Allegan County but didn’t get along with other cats that later took up residence there, according to Doug Schmidt, a supervisor at Michigan Coatings. He brought Larry to his place of employment about 14 months ago.

She was a veritable kitten then, but learned quickly how to become a mouser. She dispatched more than a few in her first months there.

“We brought her in as our executive vice president of HR,” DeJong said.

“Human Resources?” I wondered out loud.

“No,” said DeJong, trying to stifle a laugh. “Hunting Rodents.”

Larry quickly endeared herself to office workers Phyllis Anderson and Carol Workman.

“Kind of a psycho-kitty,” Anderson said. “She had all her claws, and if you didn’t pay her enough attention, ‘Quwhoo-ee-oo’ — right across your arm or face.

“Crazy, crazy cat.”

Workman used food to draw Larry to her and settle her down. It worked.

“I fed her Temptations,” she said of a treat popular with cats. “And I used to pour myself a glass of water in the morning. But it became hers.”

Larry used to occupy an office chair just inside the front door. Salespeople would enter and see her and say, “How’s Larry today?” Every now and then, Larry would sport clothing, including a Tigers jersey that stopped fitting as she gained weight.

Larry’s standing was large. She had her own bank account. I saw the actual card, made out to “Larry the Cat” compliments of a local credit union. At last count, Larry had about $250 to her name, thanks to proceeds from a soda machine at the shop which were then deposited in the cat’s name.

Larry was mostly free to come and go, inside and out. Early last week, Larry apparently ran off. Or sought greener pastures. Whatever cats do. Hopefully, she wasn’t victimized or injured or killed.

When I approached Tom Lilly, the owner of Michigan Coatings, he referred to Larry like part of the crew.

“Oh, yeah,” he said good-naturedly. “Larry.”

That simple three-word acknowledgment made me wonder whether more businesses — big and small — should consider a softer edge.

Plants in the windows. A putting green out back. Watchdogs and watchcats and maybe even watchturtles. Less worries and more Larrys.

Maybe it’s time we strayed from the business models that made us great but haven’t adapted to prop us up in these hard times. Cupcakes every Friday. A merry-go-round in the parking lot. Sousa marches on the company loudspeaker at lunchtime.

Larry is not the first animal to occupy a place at Michigan Coatings. Before Larry, chickens somehow made their way into the plant. “Eggs every day,” Nelson said.

What’s next?

“We’re thinkin’ about a goat,” Schmidt said.

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