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20-year-old cat is king in Iowa community

7:25 AM, Dec 19, 2012   |    comments
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WAUKEE, Iowa -- Spend a bit of time at the hardware store on Waukee's downtown triangle, and you'll know Wesley.

Wesley, an orange tabby cat, has seen much of his life from a window perch that looks out east from the Waukee Hardware Store & Rent-It Center.

Store owners Geoff and Anne Warmouth took Wesley in as their own in 1998. Back then, there was an abundance of stray cats coming out of the area near Warrior Lane and U.S. Highway 6, Geoff Warmouth said. The police and a local veterinarian sought refuge for the kitty.

"They were looking to find a home for him or else they were going to euthanize him," Warmouth said.

Warmouth estimated Wesley was around five years old when they took him in, which means the cat has likely reached the two-decade mark. Wesley's grown from a unwanted stray to the prince of the hardware store during a time when Waukee has also seen great change.

The Des Moines suburb that boasted a population of 13,790 in 2010 was much different when Wesley first strutted into the store in Waukee's historical business district.

Waukee's population totaled about 4,500 in 1998, which at the time was seen as great growth compared with about 2,400 residents in 1990. The year of Wesley's arrival also saw the opening of the first modern-day grocery store in the community.

The Warmouths did more than give Wesley a consistent supply of catnip.

They made the cat a kingdom, and the community has embraced him. Along with his spot in the window, Wesley has his own chair in the store -- with a sign that notes it's not for sale.

It hasn't always been an easy life of sun-warmed naps and pats from adoring visitors. Wesley suffered from a rough case of colonitis a few years ago but he persevered, and the store threw a great birthday bash after that to celebrate his life, Warmouth said. The annual parties are always held the first weekend in April.

"He averages about 100 guest per party. We had two sheet cakes, 10 cases of pop and 120 hot dogs for his 18th birthday party," Geoff Warmouth said.

Waukee Mayor Bill Peard, whose teenage son works at the hardware store, said Wesley Warmouth -- the kitty carries the store owners' family name -- is like an ambassador for the community.

Joyce Spencer will often bring her grandchildren into the store to visit Wesley. When Wesley hides, a visit to the hardware store becomes a treasure hunt.

"Wesley can be a lot of places. He can be in the office. He can be clear in the back," Spencer said.

"Sometimes he wants to play," said Spencer's granddaughter, Savannah Dye.

Wesley has a candy-coated house on his window perch this Christmas season that gives a festive feel for children who come to visit the cat. Savannah stopped by to place some decorations on Wesley's holiday house.

An average cat lives to 13 or 14, said veterinarian Chuck Riordan. Wesley has lived longer than most of his kind, Riordan said.

"Twenty is an extended lifetime," he said.

A cat at 20 is like a human who lives to become a centenarian, Riordan said.

Wesley will celebrate his 21st birthday in April, Warmouth said.

In the meantime, Wesley's heated window is perfect for people-watching during the cold winter days ahead.

"Yeah, Wesley likes to sit in the window and watch the world go by," Warmouth said.

Christopher Pratt, Des Moines Register

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