A local dog on Saturday evening reportedly mauled Stubbs the cat, honorary mayor of the Alaska community of Talkeetna, a small town of about 900 north of Anchorage and the launching pad for Mt. McKinley expeditions. The prominent pussy cat suffered a deep gash about four inches wide; the loose dog cut through Stubbs' skin and muscle. According to Stubbs' owner, the cat is clinging to life at a veterinarian's office in the nearby town of Wasilla.
Known around Southcentral Alaska for years, as tour bus drivers mention the town's curious cat while passing through Talkeetna -- a town often called eccentric in its own right -- Stubbs' celebrity skyrocketed last year when Anchorage TV news station KTUU reported the cat won the town's mayoral election as a write-in candidate. It turned out that was not entirely true. Talkeetna doesn't really have a mayor. A community council, which operates under the jurisdiction of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, oversees the town. Regardless of the media hook, Stubbs is recognized as the honorary -- symbolic, unofficial, volunteer -- mayor. He even has a paragraph dedicated to him under the government section of Talkeetna's Wikipedia page.
Now, the 16-year-old cat's life hangs in the balance.
On a dreary Saturday evening in downtown Talkeetna, Stubbs was strolling on the main street of the tiny hamlet. He had only strutted a few stores down from Nagley's General Store, the workplace of his owner, Laurie Stec. Stec has managed the store for years.
Apparently, a dog that Stec said is known to locals as a mean one, darted across the street and attacked the mayor.
Stec was sitting at home when she got a call about the attack. Stubbs had the strength to run for cover after the mauling, and Talkeetna residents were searching for their missing mayor.
"People were looking around with headlights and flashlights; everybody was pretty upset," Stec said on Monday. "All I could think was 'I can't let him die out here in the rain.'"
They searched for hours, with no luck. Stec returned to a spot she'd searched numerous times before on that grey evening. It was a spot she knew Stubbs to frequent, an old home a few structures down from the general store. She called for Stubbs repeatedly in desperation, and the old feline eventually came crawling out from underneath his hiding place.
She found him. That was good. But Stubbs was in bad condition. Back at the general store, Stec and friends examined an injured Stubbs and found a deep, wide wound. The dog reportedly cut through flesh and muscle. Stec would come to find out later that Stubbs suffered other injures as well -- a punctured lung, a crushed sternum and bruised hips.
Stec called a local vet, who was waiting for her a few miles outside the town's historic downtown district. There was little that could be done except to wrap Stubbs up and make a trip to a veterinary office in Wasilla, 70 road miles south on the George Parks Highway, about an hour-and-a-half drive.
Vets stitched Stubbs up and addressed his other wounds the best they could. Stubbs made it through the night, and on Sunday was still clinging to life.
There is still not much that can be done for the famous cat at this point. He is hooked up to life support, wearing a compression jacket, a body suit of sorts that calms anxious animals. "If he doesn't heal," Stec said, "the only thing they can do is put metal plates in his body."
The bills are stacking up, totaling $2,000 so far. But Stec said Stubbs is worth every dollar. The owner spoke with vets around 11 a.m. Monday; they told her Stubbs was doing well. He got up to drink some water, she said. Rest is what the feline needs though, and he's been dosed with pain meds to keep him relaxed. He's at the point where the pain is thought to be the worst.
Outraged by what happened, Stec has called animal control to search for the alleged canine assailant, and the dog's owner. Talkeetna is Talkeetna, Stec said, and people keep a lot of pets in rural Alaska. But pet owners need to take responsibility, she lamented. If your dog is aggressive, take responsibility and keep it locked up, she offered.
Attempts to contact the dog's reported owner were not immediately successful Monday.
Caring little about her pet's stardom, Stec only hopes Stubbs pulls through the ordeal. In fact, she is a bit befuddled by his celebrity status. Tourists from around the world have visited her store to snap photos with Stubbs, or to simply pet the "cool cat." Stubbs generally spends his days lounging in the store, sipping water from a wine glass.
"He was famous years ago, and once the TV story was done on him it just catapulted all over the world," she said. "I don't know … he's just a really cool cat."
Update, Sept. 3, 3:09 p.m.: Stubbs the cat is still clinging to life at a veterinarian's office in the cabin community of Big Lake, up the road from Wasilla. "Stubbs is holding his own," Stec said. The prominent pussy cat is hooked up to a chest tube and is heavily medicated. Since the story hit the Internet Monday, an outpouring of support for Stubbs' recovery has flooded social media sites -- Stec's medical bills top $2,000, so far. Stec has set up a donation fund at Nagley's General Store, which she manages. Concerned cat lovers can mail the donations to the store at P.O. Box 906, Talkeetna, AK, 99676. Stec said that any donations beyond the cost of Stubbs' care will go to the Mat-Su Animal Care Facility.
Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com