Tale of Tales of the Kitty
It all started with Reebok and Thor. In 1999, Shelly’s two cats—Reebok and Thor—were both diagnosed with chronic renal failure. She’s always had a case of wanderlust and knew she needed to find someone able to provide proper care for her cats while she was away on her frequent adventures. That’s when she discovered professional petsitters and learned how much having a good one not only provided her with peace of mind, but also kept her cats happy, safe and healthy.
Flash forward to 2001. Shelly began petsitting on a part-time basis while still working full-time at the Federal Reserve Bank. Two years later, when the Fed announced they needed to reduce staff headcount by one, she jumped at the chance to leave the corporate world behind and devote herself full-time to the two things that made her happiest: helping people and caring for cats. And so, in October 2003, ‘Tales of the Kitty’ was born. (And yes, Armistead Maupin approved the name!) Nicole moved to San Francisco in August 2002 and almost immediately needed to find someone to help her with her little furry man, Cappy—enter Shelly. After three years of a successful petsitter/client relationship, Nicole mentioned that she would be interested in petsitting (famous last words for many a petsitter) and in June 2005 she joined Tales of the Kitty on a part-time basis. As the saying goes, “Change is a good thing” and as change would have it, Nicole was laid off from her corporate job in the Financial District. Fortunately for Shelly, and all the kitties, Nicole came on board full-time in December 2008. We may be two of the only people genuinely thankful for lay-offs!
At Tales of the Kitty, giving back and supporting causes we care about is important to us. Annually, our employees choose a charity that is significant to them and we donate to it in their honor. You can read about their chosen charities on our blog. We also have several charities we support on an ongoing basis. The charities we support include: SF SPCA, WildCare and Wildlife Conservation Network.
Tales of the Kitty truly is a labor of love. We believe that cats are best off at home and we aim to keep their routines as consistent as possible. We strive to provide professional care and exceptional customer service. Our team of caring, dedicated employees are genuine cat lovers who are completely committed to the care and well-being of your cats. Our goal is and has always been for our feline clients to be content and for their human counterparts to be worry/stress free when they must be apart.
Shelly has loved cats as far back as she can remember. Her parents tell tales of a “nasty” (Shelly prefers misunderstood) cat, Midnight, who came with the home where she grew up. It never occurred to Shelly that the cat wouldn’t love her and as it turned out she was the only person who could get near Midnight. So it began.
Many years, kitties and even a few dogs later Shelly had built a successful career in the IT industry but felt like something was missing. One of her core values is needing to feel she’s making a difference in the world, it was time to do something that met that need. Taking a voluntary layoff Shelly thought she would spend a year caring for cats while figuring out what was next. Turns out what she thought was a temporary change WAS what was next. Not only does she get to spend her days with her favorite domestic animal, she feels like she is really helping people as well. Win-win.
Tales of the Kitty has allowed her to expand the ways she is able to make a difference. She’s completed
six times, serving as a ride leader five of the six years. In 2011, she was able to go for Africa for 2.5 months and spent part of that time volunteering. On her return from Africa she felt a need to help local wildlife which led her to
WildCare. She’s been volunteering with them since 2012, spending every Tuesday afternoon working in the clinic. In early 2015 she spent a month volunteering in Peru with
Animal Defenders International caring for rescued lions, monkeys, coatis and kinkajous. Her other passions are travel (62 countries to date!), photography, concerts and dancing to 80’s tunes as often as possible.
In 2001, an ordinary work day in Boston found Nicole chatting with her coworker over the cubicle wall. The topic was a stray cat who kept showing up at the coworker’s back door. She’d been giving him food, but was unable to keep him. Knowing that Nicole was without a feline presence in her life, she said, “If he’s there when I get home, I’m bringing him to your house.” Nicole didn’t take her seriously, but that evening came the knock on her door. In the carrier was a young chocolate point Siamese. He was filthy, smelly and not fixed. But nothing could detract from his good looks and sweet nature. He strolled out of the carrier like he owned the place, jumped up on the sofa and got comfortable. Just like that, a need in her life that Nicole hadn’t realized was there was fulfilled. She got that handsome boy cleaned up and named him Cappy for his colors, which reminded Nicole of cappuccino.
The next year, in the midst of a New England heat wave, Nicole and Cappy embarked on a new adventure to San Francisco. Soon after her arrival, in need of care for Cappy, Nicole opened up the phone book (remember those)? A couple of phone calls and a few days later, Nicole was shaking hands with Shelly. After three years of being a Tales of the Kitty client, Nicole said the magic words, “Hey, if you ever need help, let me know” and so it began on a part-time basis. In December 2008 Nicole was laid off from her corporate job and came on full-time as Shelly’s second-in-command.
In her non-kitty time, Nicole likes watching baseball, going to movies, seeking out the next book to read and attempting to grow plants (with varying results). She also loves to spend time in the kitchen, baking and cooking (with great results). Just ask any TOTK team member who’s attended her annual pre-Thanksgiving feast!
It’s all about sharing the love for longtime San Franciscan Áine (pronounced Awn-Ya) who made the move across the pond from Galway, Ireland over 25 years ago. Áine has lived with cats and dogs their entire life and can’t imagine a life without them.
Áine started working part-time with Tales of the Kitty in 2015, while still working a tech job. A year later they left the office world behind entirely and came on board as a TOTK full-timer. “Since spending my days with kitties, my blood pressure has gone down and my happiness has gone up,” Áine says. They like the flexible schedule, which allows time for volunteer work sharing animal love at hospitals, schools, senior centers, hospices, transitional housing, and once even a beauty contest!
“There’s something wrong with anyone who doesn’t like animals,” Áine says, quoting an Alzheimer's patient with whom they shared the love of Sammie, their female Yorkie-mix therapy dog. “She (the patient) wouldn’t interact with people alone, but she’d start to communicate when Sammie came to visit and she always remembered her name.”
After Sammie passed away, Áine got a therapy cat, Bailey, to make the rounds with them. Bailey began life as a feral rescue kitty, found in a friend’s Oakland backyard. When Bailey came to live with Áine, he brought along his sister, Teolai, to add even more love to the family. And there’s new dog in the household, too, another Yorkie, Little Miss Thang (known as MissT), who came from Muttville senior dog rescue. “My life revolves around my animals”, Áine says, “The more dogs and cats I can meet, the better!”
It’s not unusual for two people to first meet on the dance floor at a club. That’s where Alisha first met Shelly, but neither one was dancing. It was at the Cat Club in SoMa during the lockdown phase of the Pandemic, and on that day a crew of employees and loyal patrons had gathered together to refinish the floor. “We hit it off instantly,” says Alisha, “Shelly has great energy and tells it how it is. She really puts herself out there and so do I.”
Alisha began her life in Connecticut, but as a young adult she set her sights on San Francisco. She made the coastal leap with her companion, a former roommate’s cast-off cat, Robot Kitty. Making a new life for herself, and eventually her daughter, led to many ventures and adventures in her “true hometown.” Besides bartending at two of the coolest venues in San Francisco, the Cat Club and the Riptide, Alisha’s bone fides include over 20 years of experience in management, production, and promotion.
When Shelly knew she needed some extra expertise after the devastation of the Pandemic, she asked Alisha to join the team at Tales of the Kitty, to assist with administrating the business and to become TOTK’s first Herder of Humans. Alisha is good with people, really good. A natural born empath, she’s actualized her true calling as a life coach, guiding people to make the changes that enable them to become the champions of their lives.
She feels the same compassion for animals. Be they mammal, reptile, rodent or avian—all kinds of critters have found a home with Alisha at some point. Currently, her heart belongs to her pretty pit-mix grand dog, Chyna. “There is no animal who couldn’t get my love,” says Alisha, whose ultimate goal is to establish an animal sanctuary.
For most of the Tales of the Kitty crew, their love affair with cats began in childhood. Denise is different. Her love for cats began when a wet little fat furball scratched her across the face at the notorious old Leland Hotel in San Francisco, back in her punk rock days. Why was he wet? She never found out. But once he was dried off, the tiny Tuxedo christened Orson grew into a fine big cat who lived for 15 years. To this day Denise has a fondness for feisty kitties, and is committed to sharing her home with cats who otherwise might be overlooked for adoption, especially black cats.
Like a cat, Denise is endlessly curious. She’s delighted to have found her job at TOTK because it’s never boring. She loves caring for kitties and observing feline behavior. In her larger life, she is a writer, story-teller and psychic who works with people to help them discover and tell their own stories.
We get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals at Tales of the Kitty, and that goes for the crew as well as clients. Doug was introduced to TOTK through his good friend Heather, a fellow cat sitter, and he’s been doing his rounds on his bike since 2015. “I love the kitties,” he says, “They’re what makes it all worthwhile! The crew is not too bad either.”
Doug has loved cats for as long as he can remember. His first cat as wee lad was Stormy, a black domestic shorthair who slept next to him on his pillow. His current feline companion is Sadie, also a BDS, who sleeps next to him on his pillow.
And he cooks! Originally from New Orleans, Doug says he makes “a killer beans and rice.” He likes trying new things as well, riffing off what he experiences in restaurants during his night-time gig as a waiter.
After working two jobs, Doug uses whatever spare time he has to relax. “I like to follow the sunbeams as they move through the house, napping in them whenever I can. I like chasing bugs and have even been known to call at birds.”
Cat lover Halli moved to San Francisco in 2022 to complete their Master’s degree in Museum Studies. They needed a job that could accommodate their fluid schedule, and they knew that spending time with cats would be fun and fulfilling, so they signed on with Tales of the Kitty. "I see what a difference it makes for a cat to receive regular human attention while their family is away. I love connecting with each kitty and reassuring them that they are not alone!"
While Halli is making sure kitties don't feel lonely for their humans, they have a cat-shaped hole in their own heart. "Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to have a cat in my current housing situation. But a dear friend made me a life-size cardboard cutout of my childhood cat to keep me company." That cat was Stinky Pete, so named because when they first brought him home from the shelter, he was pretty gassy. "I think his digestive system was just adjusting to a new type of food. His gassiness eventually passed (haha), but the name stuck."
Halli also has some kitty kin in their corner—their "sister" Persephone (brown tabby with a golden belly) and annoying little “brother” Hank (black and white with a feather duster tail) who live with their mutual mom in Northern California. Halli's human sister has a stocky, long-haired orange tabby named Pooh Bear. "I love visiting all of them because I get to be the cool pal who always brings toys and treats!"
And now, onboard with Tales of the Kitty, Halli is the cool pal to the cats of San Francisco. "I love getting to know the personalities and quirks of all the cats in my care. My astrological sign is Leo, and I was born in the year of the Tiger, so I was born to be a cat person!"
Pet-centric James knows that cats are part of the family and he’s lived with them his entire adult life. He was still feeling sad about the sudden passing of his beloved kitty, Boxer Boxington, when he signed on for a job with Tales of the Kitty. It felt too soon to “replace” Boxer, but he missed the love that only kitties can bring. He had a cat when he was very young, but only briefly. He says it found a way to get into the lining under the couch and from that hiding spot it would “regularly Freddy Kruger” passing ankles. One day the cat was gone, replaced by a toy poodle. His mother Karen said it was his, but she quickly took possession, even choosing its name for him, “as if a small boy from western Massachusetts would name his dog Arianna!”
James has a primary career in retail visual merchandizing. He’s moved around a lot because with every promotion came a new city. After living in San Francisco once, he “stopped at nothing” to get sent back here. He was introduced to TOTK when he was looking for someone to care for Boxer whenever he was away. During the initial client/kitty/sitter meet and greet, he remembers thinking what a great side hustle pet sitting might be. Now that he is a kitty caretaker, it’s turned out to be even better than he imagined. He loves visiting the cats of San Francisco and TOTK is glad he’s onboard!
There's always been a cat in Kiele's life. When her parents were grad students in Hawaii, they rescued a kitten from the streets and named her Tofu. Later, the threesome moved to Massachusetts, where Kiele was born. (Her name means "Gardenia" in Hawaiian.) Kiele remembers Tofu as "a slightly grumpy grey tabby."
When Kiele was seven, and the family was living in Richmond, Virginia, a family friends' cat had a litter of kittens and they got a white one. "We named him Tomato, because we had a backyard garden and it was tomato season." Tomato was a lucky cat who lived a long life, surviving a battle with a raccoon and being hit by a car. "He lost one of his eyes and some teeth. As he got older, he stayed closer to home. He was a rather rotund and peaceful cat, like a miniature Buddha, despite the hardships. One of his favorite things to do was hang out on the front porch and greet passers-by."
After college, Kiele visited a friend in San Francisco and fell in love with the city. "I was amazed by the quality of the air—cool coastal air with a faint smell of eucalyptus—that was so different from the east coast humidity. I remember thinking that San Francisco was alive and electric and eccentric in all the right ways."
Kiele still loves exploring the city she now calls home and working for Tales of the Kitty interlocks with her life like snuggles with a cat. She likes having the freedom of walking around the city and engaging with all the different kitties. Her at-home cat these days is a short-haired tortie named Agatha, after Agatha Christie. Kiele is a murder mystery fan and relishes historical fiction, too. If her nose isn't in a book, she may be sniffing the savory aromas of her latest creations in the kitchen.`
“Look into his eyes, Mommy!” Those were the words that persuaded five-year-old Laura’s mother to let her keep the scrawny, dirty kitten she’d found in a garbage can near their house in Iowa. Laura’s mom had grown up on a farm, where the feral cats that roamed the property were tolerated only because they killed rodents. The idea of a “house cat” was new to her. Laura named the kitten “Prince” to give him the confidence to overcome his humble beginnings, and he soon became a beloved member of the family. As she grew up, other abandoned kitties followed: Cherry, Max and Bozo. When Prince died of old age in her mother’s arms, it was the only time Laura ever saw her cry.
Jump ahead to San Francisco, 2011. Laura was doing her landlord a favor—showing an available apartment to prospective tenants. One of those people was Nicole. Laura was fostering a litter of motherless kittens at the time and she and Nicole soon discovered their mutual appreciation of cats. Nicole didn’t take the apartment, but they exchanged contact info, and that July Nicole asked Laura if she’d like to be part of the Tales of the Kitty team. Why yes, she would, and has been ever since.
Laura likes the physical aspects of her job with TOTK—walking from home to home, climbing stairs, frolicking with a feather toy and her cat pals. Over the years, she’s developed heartfelt relationships with her regular kitty clients. With new charges, she looks forward to that moment when trust is established between carer and cat. In her home office, where Laura works as a writer/editor, she shares her desk space with a troublesome tortie, Mimi.
Growing up in Redwood City, Natalie says her household was never boring or quiet. Her stepmom, early in her career, was a vet tech. She was always bringing home pets that people had abandoned. Young Natalie didn't really need stuffed animals because at nighttime her bed would quickly fill up with real dogs and cats.
Her father occasionally worked in San Francisco, and as a teenager she would hitch rides with him, or take the bus or train to attend protest marches or just to explore. After college, through a theatre troop she was costuming for, she found her first home in the city, a flat in the Outer Richmond. She's been a San Franciscan ever since. "It's the longest love affair of my life," she says. Natalie has been a tour guide for both City Guides and SF Heritage.
Before she joined the Tales of the Kitty crew, Natalie was a client who needed a sitter for her "Covid Cat", Tryke. She found her formally feral animal companion online. "One day the SPCA had a new listing for a cat found injured in PAC Heights. He’d been hit by a car and had to have a hind leg amputated. He was an older guy and they were worried no one would want him." So, she adopted him without first meeting him, or knowing anything about his history or personality. "It’s been a rough three years sorting out his quirks, insecurities and his massive abandonment phobia. But we’re doing OK now."
Natalie thinks the TOTK staff is kind and communicative. She enjoys walking and exploring the Russian and Telegraph Hill neighborhoods on her way to sits. She loves caring for all of the kitties with their distinct personalities. "Since my cat Tryke is an old curmudgeon, I get so happy when I get to cuddle with affectionate cats and watch the kittens get so excited about playing."
“Monotony—I try to avoid it!” Definitely not a nine-to-five guy, Scott likes that every day is different at his job with Tales of the Kitty. His other job is also spontaneous and unpredictable. He’s the assistant manager of a 90-unit apartment building in Lower Nob Hill.
A San Franciscan via Cleveland, Scott has always loved animals. He thinks cats are unique. He likes their independence, attitude and lack of artifice. “You can tell if a cat really likes you or not”, he says. Most cats like Scott—really, really like him. Shelly and Nicole are both convinced he’s a human version of catnip. He appreciates each cats’ individual personality and considers every kitty he visits to be his part-time pet.
Scott has the distinction of being TOTK’s longest employee. When he and Shelly met through a mutual friend, they quickly discovered that: (1) They were both from Ohio. (2) They lived in the same building. (3) On the same floor. Small world! Her kitties loved him from the get-go and, as was the case with Nicole, he uttered those famous words, “If you ever need help with pet sitting, let me know.” That was December 2010, now we're not sure how we survived without him.
Young Shivaun's initiation into the magical world of cats was transcendent. The little girl was playing in her backyard when she saw two black and white cats coming over the fence. Instantly, she felt she'd known the creatures in a previous life. "It was spiritual and profound. I wouldn't have been able to articulate it this way as a three-year-old, but something in me was like "Oh, there you are! At last, we meet again!"
So, is it a coincidence that Shivaun's two current cats are also black and white? Actually, yes, but they came into her life from a similar place. Her Edward, a tuxedo, was from a backyard litter in Pacifica. Her Juliana, a cow cat, was part of a feral colony in a backyard in Daly City. "The first thing I do every day is attend to Edward and Juliana. Later, if I have cat visits, I give the same care and attention to those kitties whose regular caregivers (or cat-servants, as I like to call them) are away from home."
Shivaun is a native San Franciscan and proud of it. "San Francisco is my very soul. Its architecture and environment formed me as I am today. Other folks can't wait to get out of their hometown after high school, but when you're from San Francisco, a lot of the world comes to you." Case in point: Shivaun's mother was born and raised in Hawaii and came to San Francisco for work. Her father was London-born of Irish descent. They met in San Francisco when he was visiting the area for a weekend.
Working for Tales of the Kitty gives Shivaun the flexibility to further enjoy the cultural riches of her city—the libraries, live music, art and films. And she has the opportunity to expand her feline universe. "It's a cat-shaped world," she says, "I just live in it.”
Here is a tale of a quest (and a cat). And, as in any great quest story, our heroine embarked on her adventures in the company of a trusty sidekick. So gather 'round for the Tale of Taylor and Marilyn.
Growing up in Sacramento, Taylor dreamed of someday moving to San Francisco and working on the top floor of a huge building downtown. Of her childhood, Taylor says her family life included kitties since the day she was born. When she moved out on her own, she wanted a cat of her own. At a shelter she fell in love with a plucky young cat she christened Marilyn, "Because of the black beauty mark on her face, just like Marilyn Monroe." Together they set off on what would be a nomadic life for many years as Taylor worked to advance her career.
"Marilyn is truly a companion cat," says Taylor, "She really has been a foundation in my life. She’s flown cross country numerous times, and she's moved with me over a dozen times. Everywhere I go, she goes, including times when I was just couch-surfing. Marilyn was always my life line. She got me through some really hard times."
And now for the happy ending! Taylor fulfilled her childhood dream. She's settled in San Francisco with her partner Ben and Marilyn, who is now 15-years-old. She works fulltime for a prominent tech company and still has the vivacity to care for cats with her job at Tales of the Kitty. "For me, it’s relaxing. My favorite part of my days is getting to visit with kitties all over San Francisco. From experience I understand how pivotal it is to have someone you trust to care for your cats and your home while you're away. And I really value the teamwork and organization it takes to make Tales of the Kitty run!"
Win Win! That's how Xinni feels about her job with Tales of the Kitty. "I'm a cat lover taking care of cats and I have the opportunity to interact with a lot of them!" Xinni doesn't endorse the notion of cats as aloof, demanding creatures. "Normally they're happy with whatever their people provide. If not, they would figure out something better. I think a cat's philosophy of life would be, Everything is appreciated and my human should appreciate everything about me."
When Xinni was a little girl she had white kitten named Mii. "She was the most delicate creature in my childhood. Every morning she woke up a little bit early and quietly sat on my pillow. If she thought I was snoozing too long she would start biting my sleeves. I always wondered if she was checking to see if I was alive or not." One morning Mii wasn't there. "She ran away when everyone was asleep." Although Xinni's little alarm clock didn't stick around, her name did. "After that we called every pet we ever had Mii. It's an easy name for both humans and furry buddies to remember."
Xinni moved to San Francisco over a decade ago. For a while she owned a small restaurant where the work never stopped. She was exhausted and even injured herself. Now she's reframing her future to include time for the creative pursuits that mean the most to her. "I like to draw. I used to draw a lot. It's the one thing I can do for an entire day without noticing the time. I stopped drawing for several years, now I'm picking it up again." Xinni used to draw only portraits of people, but she's thinking about adding some new subjects, too. You guessed it...cats!
Among the regular revelers of 80’s dance nights at The Cat Club, Shelly stood out to Heather, the coat check girl at the venue. “It was her height and her dancing and how upbeat and friendly she was with everybody, whether she knew them or not,” she says. So, one night she introduced herself. As they chatted, the conversation turned to, you guessed it, cats! It was a topic Heather knew a lot about.
Heather grew up in a family that wasn’t complete without a cat or two. No matter where they lived—which was a lot of places because her father was in the Coast Guard—there were kitties in residence, too. And then there are the cats who came into her life as an adult. The first was Stinky, one of a litter that a feral mom gave birth to in Heather’s backyard. When he died young eight years later, she was devastated. “He was like my boyfriend” she says. It took a friend’s intervention to find her next kitty companion. “She decided I’d moped around enough, so she picked out a cat at the SPCA and dragged me down there to meet her.” The long-haired black cat resembled Stinky in appearance, but had a solemn, regal demeanor, so she named her Queenie. She lived for twenty years.
Heather came on board at Tales of the Kitty in 2014. She says that caring for cats is a relaxing respite from her work at the Cat Club, where her job requires an intense level of human interaction. “Cats speak to you with their eyes and body language”, she says, “They communicate, but they don’t converse.” Heather’s current boyfriend with long black hair is Lucky Luciano, named for a character on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. So, why all the black cats? “I wear a lot of black, she says, “so the hair doesn’t show.”