Manhattanites Mourn the Mayor of 7th Street

 |  Jun 22nd 2009  |   10 Contributions


In NYC's East Village, cat lovers are mourning the passing of Pretty Boy, a 22-year-old cat who ruled the stretch of East 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. Here's the story:

By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY

The steady rain has delayed countless city rituals: barbecues, baseball games, rooftop cocktail parties. Add to the list a funeral, rescheduled twice this week as mourners awaited an outlet for their collective grief.

The deceased: Pretty Boy, the Mayor of East Seventh Street, a dignified white cat who had a confident swagger and a distaste for rainy weather. Thus the long-delayed memorial service to sprinkle his cremated remains along the path he once strutted.

Pretty Boy, believed to have been about 22 years old, was a local fixture for over a decade, making his rounds on the south side of the block between First Avenue and Avenue A, as shops opened and closed and renters moved in and out. His death last month, of natural causes, unleashed a storm of emotion.

A business owner broke into tears at his mention. One young resident wept through a rehearsal for her kindergarten graduation. And Herbie, a disheveled supermodel of a cat who used to live with Pretty Boy at Mikeys Pet Shop, has retreated behind bags of cat litter to grieve privately.

Every day I cry, said Betty Knapp, who used to work at Mikeys Pet Shop. Pretty Boy used to rest on her chest when her blood pressure rose, she said, and it helped to calm her down. Now, she bursts into sobs when she talks about him. He knew he was the man. He was the man on East Seventh Street. Everybody just loved him.

While accounts differ on exactly when Pretty Boy appeared on the block, Mikey Diaz, owner of the pet store, said he had strutted in and leapt onto the counter shortly after the store opened in this spot in 1998. Pretty Boy started sleeping in the shop at night and was later joined by Herbie. During the day, Pretty Boy ventured a few doors down to a hair salon called Chatsii, where he perched on the reception counter and leapt onto the laps of customers. Some days, Mr. Diaz said, he swaggered through a Swiss restaurant on the block.

But the turnover of shops on the block meant changes for Pretty Boy. Monique Simard, the previous owner of Chatsii, said that after she retired in 2004 Pretty Boy was no longer welcome in the space: The new owners were allergic to cats. And the Swiss restaurant closed.


So in 2004, Pretty Boy showed up at Salon Seven, a little farther down the block, and began a friendship with the owner, Mark Dolengowski.

It made for a good life: After waking to breakfast and a face-washing from Mr. Diaz at the pet shop, Pretty Boy headed over to spend the day with Mr. Dolengowski, sniffing hubcaps on the way over and meowing for water upon his arrival.

He spent his day purring, sprawled on the appointment calendar at the reception desk and in the laps of clients having their hair washed. The cats love of hair salons made Mr. Dolengowski suspect that he was a reincarnated hairdresser.

When he returned to the pet shop at days end, Pretty Boy was less subdued, chasing Herbie around the store, Mr. Diaz recalled, and breaking into the catnip. When rats appeared, however, Pretty Boy typically stayed on the counter and let Herbie handle them.

At the tail end of his life, Pretty Boy was balancing a fairly demanding schedule. He spent Saturdays traveling back and forth, greeting clients at the hair salon and purring for fans and families who stopped by to visit him after services at a synagogue in the neighborhood. Sundays brought children from a Ukrainian church.

Daliyah Abdel-Rehim, who lives on the block, is struggling to accept that Pretty Boy, whom she calls her best friend, wont attend her upcoming sixth birthday party. Her mother, Iryna Malytska, said that Daliyah cried through her kindergarten graduation rehearsal on Wednesday.

She really loved him, Ms. Malytska said. He was a part of Seventh Street.

Standing before the Pretty Boy memorial he made with photographs and a vase of pink peonies, Mr. Dolengowski, too, conceded that the cats death had broken his heart.

You get so hard living here, he said in a gravelly, mournful voice. But pets open up that heart center. There is something about the unconditional love; they clean the blues off of you.

Thats their mission. Thats why a lot of New Yorkers have pets.

[LINK/PHOTO CREDIT: The New York Times]

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