As aging Mayor Stubbs' health fades, Residents Ponder Succession
TALKEETNA, Alaska—The mayor of this tiny village has been shot, fallen into a restaurant fryer, jumped off a moving truck and been mauled by a dog. Now the burning question around these parts is: Has Mayor Stubbs used up his nine lives?
Stubbs is a cat—but that didn't stop residents of this unincorporated burg of 876 from naming him their mayor 16 years ago. "It's an honorary position we gave him, and it just stuck," says Lauri Stec, general manager of Nagley's General Store, where Stubbs was adopted by the management as a stray kitten. "We don't own him, he owns us," she added, scratching his honor under the chin.
But townsfolk are being forced to contemplate regime change, after the golden-furred Manx mix was attacked by a dog in late August and left with 12 stitches, a punctured lung and fractured sternum. Stubbs spent nine days in a veterinary hospital before being released to his home in an upstairs room of the general store, where he is said to be recuperating slowly.
"We don't know what we'd do without him, really," says resident Leah Vanden Busch, 27, a fisheries biologist. But Peter Mathiesen, 54, an outdoors writer, says talk has already begun about a possible replacement. "There is great debate whether or not there will be an election, who will replace Stubbs," Mr. Mathiesen says. "Who knows? It's a great question."
Talkeetna isn't the first American town to name an animal as its mayor. A beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry presided over Lajitas, Texas, until his death in 1992, after which he was succeeded by two other goats, Clay Henry II and Clay Henry III. "Best mayor we ever had," says Davis Odom, a local historian.
In Rabbit Hash, Ky., a Border Collie named Lucy Lou defeated 10 dogs, a cat, a possum, a jackass and even one human to become the town's third animal mayor—all dogs—since 1998, says Bobbi Kayser, the current mayor's owner. The community of about 100 began electing animals as a way to raise money for upkeep of its historic buildings, charging a dollar a vote for as many votes as people wanted to make. About $22,000 was raised in the last election in 2008.
"It's like politics anywhere, but we're just more honest about it," says Ms. Kayser, 55.
Eastsound, Wash., also began electing animals as a fundraiser five years ago, with proceeds going to a local learning center, the Orcas Island Children's House. Dogs have won in every year except in 2011, when a dairy cow named April defeated four canines, a rabbit and cat, said Susan Anderson, executive director of the children's learning center. A local newspaper column under April's name addressed her supporters: "Thanks for your enthoosiasm and suppoort and remember, eat moore chicken!"
But few animal mayors have suffered more tumult than Stubbs, whose lifetime appointment began after employees of Nagley's discovered him left on the front porch when just a few weeks old. "We wanted a store cat," recalls Ms. Stec, 54.
In naming the kitten its mayor, Talkeetna hewed to a reputation for quirkiness. A hub for bush pilots to ferry climbers onto Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak, Talkeetna is also known for its Moose Dropping Festival, Wilderness Woman Contest and Bachelor Auction and Ball. The town served as an inspiration for the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska, in the 1990s television series "Northern Exposure," says Trisha Costello, owner of the Talkeetna Roadhouse.
The pet politician added to Talkeetna's allure, strutting around town like any mayor-for-life might do. He presided over Nagley's and the adjoining West Rib Pub & Grill, catching voles and sipping water from a wine glass spiked with catnip. "Every once in a while someone will grab his glass and get a mouthful of catnip," says bartender Brandon Nevarette.
Stubbs sauntered freely into other restaurants and shops, too—dining on scraps of king crab and salmon. "He likes to hang out in here, but we can't let him, because we can't sell cat hair shirts," says Patti Callen, a clerk at the Mostly Moose Gift Shop.
Taking Over the Mayor's Office, One Paw (or Hoof) at a Time
In 2008, a border collie named Lucy Lou defeated 10 dogs, a cat, a possum, a jackass and one human to become third animal mayor of Rabbit Hash, Ky. Cindy Starr
There are no formal surveys, but the mayor's approval ratings seem high. "He hasn't voted for anything I wouldn't have voted for," says Peg Vos, 61, a retired schoolteacher. "Anything's better than a human," adds Gil Gunther, 46, owner of the Antler Outpost.
The mayor doesn't say much, although he perked up when talk of a proposed river dam nearby came up in an interview with Ms. Stec. "He was just growling, so he doesn't like it," she said.
Not every constituent is enthralled, however. "My wife hates cats and gets totally creeped out eating at the pub with Stubbs," Mr. Mathiesen, the outdoors writer, says.
Stubbs's run of bad luck began about five years ago when some teenagers opened fire with a BB gun, leaving a pellet lodged in his hindquarters. Not long after, Stubbs hitched a ride on a garbage truck, prompting an all-points-bulletin on the local radio station. He managed to jump off on the outskirts of town and make his way home. Last year, he fell into the fryer of a restaurant—fortunately when the oil was cold—requiring an all-night cleansing with dish soap, Ms. Stec says.
Most recently, on the night of Aug. 31, the mayor was out making his rounds when he was attacked by a mixed-breed dog. Ms. Stec says she got a call about the incident at home, but couldn't immediately locate Stubbs. When she found him bleeding on the ground, she wrapped him up and took him to a local vet. Stubbs survived, and upon his return to Nagley's, was greeted like royalty.
Fans from around the world, who knew of the cat mayor from previous news coverage, sent get-well cards and left messages of support on a Facebook page. Like an even more well-known former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Sarah Palin, Stubbs's star power has helped put Talkeetna on the map.
But with Stubbs' recovery going slowly, talk inevitably has turned to succession plans. Exactly how—or whether—to replace Stubbs hasn't been determined. Says Sassan Mossaner, owner of the Denali Brewing Co., "Those are difficult paws to fill."
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