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Alaska's most famous feline, Talkeetna 'mayor' Stubbs, may be heading to retirement

Laurel Andrews
Stubbs has his own postcard at Nagley's General Store in Talkeetna. March 29, 2014.
Laurel Andrews photo
Seventeen-year-old Stubbs, the unofficial mayor of Talkeetna, takes an afternoon nap. March 29, 2014.
Laurel Andrews photo
Sleepy-eyed Stubbs wakes from his nap. March 29, 2014
Laurel Andrews photo
Owner Lauri Stec has made a collage using some of the addresses that sent in well-wishes to Stubbs when he was attacked. The collage will be hung alongside framed articles about Stubb in the bathroom at Nagley's General Store. March 29, 2014.
Laurel Andrews photo

Alaska’s most famous feline may be heading into retirement. Stubbs, the unofficial mayor of Talkeetna, has made an unexpected full recovery after getting mauled by a dog seven months ago, but owner Lauri Stec said on Saturday that come summer, when the deluge of visitors descends upon the Southcentral community, Stubbs might be taking a break from the hectic scene at Nagley’s General Store.

Stubbs was mauled by a dog in late August, but has bounced back and on Saturday afternoon was sleeping peacefully in a basket on top of a store freezer. The world-famous cat is often referred to as the mayor of Talkeetna, a title that has won him media coverage from scores of outlets across the world. Although widely reported that Stubbs won a local election, that turned out to be untrue, but his fame has still garnered a massive following. He has become a tourist attraction, drawing visitors into Nagley’s Store year-round, and even has his own postcard alongside those of polar bears and outdoor Alaska scenes that fill up the rack by the shop's front door.

But at 17 years old, Stubbs is starting to slow down, and Stec isn’t sure how long all the attention can last.

Sitting in a back office at Nagley’s General Store on Saturday, Stec sighed as she glanced out the window at snow melting in the spring sun. There’s just one month left before tourist season picks up and visitors swarm the community. Between the Alaska Railroad, tour buses and independent visitors, the streets and stores are packed come summertime, in stark contrast to the quaint vibe that Talkeetna has during winter months.

Now, as he settles into old age, Stec has to weigh whether to keep Stubbs at Nagley’s during the summer, or retire him to her house to protect his health.

Stec knows he’ll hate being stuck there, but she’s not sure what else to do. “He’s old. He should be able to do what he wants,” she said, but the attention from visitors can be so excessive she worries for him. “Sometimes I’ve just got to grab him from people,” she said. Last week she watched as a man got on his hands and knees to photograph Stubbs, who was sleeping underneath the freezer, and she couldn’t help but find it a little funny.

“I just want it to go away. Let him be happy for however long he has left,” she said.

Although he’s getting old, he was still able to make a full recovery from a serious mauling this autumn.

In late August, he was attacked by a dog a few stores down from Nagley’s General Store as he ambled along outside. He suffered a punctured lung, crushed sternum, bruised hips and a deep wound on his back leg and hip in the attack. Community members searched for him for hours in the rain, and Stubbs eventually crawled out from under an old home near Nagley’s, one of his favorite hiding places. Stec rushed him to a veterinarian in Wasilla, alongside local veterinarian Jennifer Pironis.

Seven months later, he’s doing fine. Even his fur has grown back on his hind leg, which the vet said was unlikely. “He’s definitely used up 100 lives,” Stec said. He still hasn’t been back outside since the mauling, and a sign on the front door now warns people not to let the cat out. The dog responsible for the mauling is no longer allowed in town, Stec said, and if he does come in, he must wear a leash.

After word of the attack hit the media, Stec began to receive hundreds of letters and donations from across the world, as far away as Turkey and Australia. Those letters have slowed, but are still trickling in, she said, pointing to a banker box on the floor marked “Stubbs.” She’s made a collage with some of the the addresses of that will hang in Nagley’s bathroom, alongside framed articles about Stubbs, including his front-page profile in the Wall Street Journal.

Stubb’s medical bills came at about $3,000, and were paid for by the Nine Lives Foundation, a no-kill cat shelter in California.

Now, Stec has $5,000 in donations that is waiting to be given away. Most of the money will be given to Pironis of Golden Pond Veterinary Services, who helped rescue Stubbs that night. Pironis is in need of equipment, Stec said. The money is sitting in the bank until the Dennis Freeman, owner of Nagley’s General Store, and Pironis cross paths after being out of state during the winter months. The rest of the money will be donated to a no-kill animal shelter, Stec said.