A sad update on this story. Special has passed away since this article was published.
By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
Count the ballots.
Feed the cat.
A new duty has been added to the daily checklists for Summit County elections board employees.
They must take care of Special, the long-haired calico that has managed to make the board's Grant Street office her home.
Employees don't consider the responsibility a chore, though. In fact, they say the feline addition has been positive for the often divisive board, bringing together Democratic and Republican employees who rarely — if ever — talked before.
''She's united both parties — an independent,'' joked Marijean Donofrio, the board's Democratic director.
She called the cat ''the warm and fuzzy part of the board.''
The cat earned her name because she began hanging around the board about the time of the February 2010 special election. Gary Hagen, the assistant to the deputy director who recently left for another job, began feeding her, even coming in on weekends to make sure she had food.
When the weather turned cold last November, board employees were con
cerned about Special and started letting her inside the board's warehouse-like back room, where supplies are stored and ballots are dropped off during elections. At first, she didn't venture past the large black mat in front of the doors.
Gradually, though, Special moved her way into the board's inner office and now spends most of the day in the absentee ballot area. She has her own chair, toys, catnip, treats, food bowls and litter box — all provided by board employees, using their own money.
The kitty has become part of the board's routine.
When Amanda Hagen, a Republican, gets in about 7:20, she feeds Special. The cat then jumps up on her usual office chair and Hagen rolls her into the absentee area.
Dave Petty, a Democrat, lets Special go out with him mid-morning when he takes a smoke break.
Special then hangs out in the absentee area, alternating between curling up on her chair and sprawling across Hagen's desk. Hagen switched from putting her papers on the left side to the right to make room for her feline friend. She keeps a few toys and a jar of treats on her desk.
Cecilia Robart, a Republican, comes in about 9:30 a.m. to give Special her midmorning treat — a sprinkle of catnip.
''I'm turning her into a crack head,'' Robart said, laughing.
Other employees drop in throughout the day to spend a few minutes with Special.
''She's just comforting,'' Donofrio said. ''When things are stressful, you can come in, pet her, give her a snack and then go back to work.''
''It doesn't stop production,'' Robart said. ''We keep on working.''
About 2 p.m., Special gets her second meal. She goes out for an afternoon break with Petty. And then, about 4:30 p.m., when the board is closing, Hagen wheels the cat out of absentee on her chair.
Before leaving for the weekend, employees load up Special's dry food dish.
A few employees are allergic to cats or simply aren't feline fans.
Among them is Maria Kotsatos, a Republican, who works in the board's main office area. She said she doesn't mind Special because she stays in absentee.
''I just keep my distance from it,'' said Kotsatos, who is allergic to cats.
With warmer weather — hopefully — on the horizon, board employees expect Special to start spending more time outside. When it was nice last year, she sunned herself in the outside break area, stretching out on one of the chairs.
But the employees don't expect Special to stay out too long or stray too far. She recently spent the night out, worrying board employees and returning with her fur matted with mulch.
''She now has a curfew,'' Donofrio said, smiling at the cat.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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