Curious Cat is noisy. And nosey. She is a midnight head pouncer, window shade rattler, kitchen counter box knocker, bedroom door opener, stairway foot attacker. Jessica Weber can't sleep without her.
"I fall asleep to noise," says Jessica, 13. "I like the noise she makes. It takes me forever to sleep here."
"Here" is a new apartment. "There" is the home where Jessica was born and raised. The house is one of more than 62,000 under foreclosure in the Tampa Bay area. It is now vacant except for Curious Cat, called C.C., another cat named Precious and a few stray belongings.
It has been a hard year. A separation and dad's job loss left monthly income cut by more than half. Jessica, who has cystic fibrosis, has been in and out of the hospital. The new apartment charges a $300 pet deposit per animal. The cats just don't fit into the new budget. So they stay in the empty house until the family can find new owners. Or until the bank completes a short sale.
For whatever reason, from the day they met eight years ago, C.C. bonded to Jessica. Maybe because she shares cheese and ice cream. Maybe because she carries her around the house in a snuggly shoebox. Maybe because C.C. knows when Jessica is sick. Normally she sleeps at the foot of the bed. But in hard times, she curls around Jessica's neck, purrs to her and refuses to leave her side.
C.C. was patient when Jessica decided cats should wear doll clothes, and Jessica was patient with C.C. after she ran across a hot stove, burning the pads on her feet. They shared long afternoons in the closet under the stairs, the best hiding place in the house. In the closet, Jessica makes perfect soda box houses for C.C. and plays with toys she is supposed to have outgrown.
Neither understands subprime mortgages, bundled securities, bond ratings, derivatives, how those things add up to recession, why recession means dad can't keep his job selling houses, and how all that trickles down to one thing they do understand: saying goodbye.
John Pendygraft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8247. Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.