BJ and Boo are two of Ocoee’s most beloved sons. The feline duo can be found causing all sorts of trouble at Betty J’s Florist on Bluford Avenue.
| 8:00 p.m. December 1, 2016
West Orange Times & Observer
He proudly waltzes in on all four paws, making his entrance through the back doorway that leads to his home: A bustling shop with ladies who spend their every day with pretty flowers, arranging them into colorful bouquets for local deliveries.
And here he comes with his latest catch — a hard-earned present for the flower ladies in the form of a scaly, writhing black snake.
The shouting begins like clockwork.
“He’s got a snake! BJ’s got a snake again!” one female florist shouts in terror, quitting her current task and backing away from the feline swiftly advancing further into the floral shop.
“Don’t let him in,” shouts a second florist named Lisa Slone, known as the cat nanny.
THE SNAKE WRANGLER
Slone quickly gets up from her desk and makes a sharp turn, running toward the back door to pursue the source of the commotion that Tuesday morning in Betty J’s Florist shop in Ocoee. BJ, the once proud cat, stops dead in his tracks once he sees the cat nanny — the flower lady who always tries to steal his serpentine presents.
BJ makes a frantic about-face before making a beeline for the closest exit before the snake thief can catch him. He heads for the white trailer in the green expanse located behind his home where he does all his hunting, the three-foot-long snake still trapped in his mouth.
Slone finally catches up to the feline snake wrangler, the only flower lady brave enough to dare pry the snake from his grasp. But this time, she repeatedly commands him to let it go, her tone increasing each time until the snake managed to escape from death’s grasp and quickly slithers away as BJ is distracted and reprimanded.
Such is the life of BJ, a ringtail tabby who spends the majority of his time hunting all sorts of critters for his ungrateful family of flower ladies. He does not quite comprehend why they refuse to accept his gifts, but ever the persistent cat, he tries again, consistently. Sometimes, he brings them lizards; other times, he brings them flying rodents they call “birds,” and sometimes, he shares his beloved snakes.
But his family is hard to please, so sometimes he just brings lizards in so he can turn them loose and have friends to play with later. One time, he turned a bird loose in his home, but it did not end well for the bird and his family really did not like that.
BJ, named after Betty J, is only one of two quirky felines who reside at the flower shop on Bluford Avenue and McKey Street.
THE SPOILED BRAT
Boo is his name, and delivering flowers is his game. He mostly just goes along for the rides in the white delivery van, lazily sprawled out on the dashboard as Slone dutifully drives him around town while he naps or looks for birds flying in the sky or perched on electric power lines.
He searches for them during the red lights, his different-colored eyes — one blue and one green — attentive to the slightest movement. He can’t hear their chirping or the roar of the motorcycle engine beside the van. The world is completely silent for Boo — an earlier trip to the vet revealed he was born deaf.
But he slowly closes his eyes again once the van continues forward, enjoying the humming vibrations of the familiar vehicle. Sometimes, he sticks his head out the window and enjoys the breeze, a trick he learned from observing those terrible beasts his flower ladies call “dogs.”
“I guess it’s his way of hearing — the senses of the car vibrations, the smells, and what he sees outside the van,” Slone said of Boo. “I’ve been around cats all my life, and I’ve never seen a cat that will hang his head out the window.”
Slone has driven him to several places in Ocoee, with the usual being cemeteries, funeral homes and hospitals. He’s even traveled as far as Tampa and has the photos to prove it. Boo now jumps into the white van of his own accord whenever he seeks another adventure.
Most days, he goes on two to three rides. He really enjoys being around the flower-obsessed ladies and is almost always around one of them, but his favorite spots are the top cubby on the cat tree in the center of the shop and Slone’s desk — right in the middle of her workspace so she has no choice but to pet his white fur, filled with dried leaves, dirt and all.
Living in a flower shop, as opposed to a traditional home, creates a lifestyle that is a bit out of the norm. The two felines spend their nights alone, curled up in their beds in the front window display. They then wake to whoever opens the shop the next morning.
But they have much more freedom and independence than most domestic cats will ever have, and they enjoy it.
“They have so much here,” said Rilla Tomyn, the owner of Betty J’s Florists. “Granted, they’ll never curl up on somebody’s head. They’ll never do the things that cats do in somebody’s house, but they live a different life. During the daytime, they have constant companionship if they want it.”
The two cats are now loved by Ocoee community members who frequent the shop and their Facebook fans who follow their daily adventures on their dedicated page, “The Flower Shop Boys.” However, circumstances could have been drastically different for the two cats, who were both rescues.
Six years ago, Lucy, a former delivery driver, found BJ at Marvin C. Zanders Funeral Home in Apopka. Lucy, Tomyn said, was delivering flowers to the funeral home when she came across a feeble kitten in danger of being eaten by two dogs. So Lucy ran over and picked BJ up by the scruff of his neck, effectively plucking him out of a situation he might not have survived.
Lucy then took the rescued kitten to the flower shop, and he’s been there ever since.
“Everybody went crazy over him, and he just became a part of our shop at that point,” Tomyn said. “Even though the last thing we needed was a cat.”
Boo, on the other hand, was in Tomyn’s backyard. She found him a year after losing a white cat. Boo, she said, looked just like her lost cat, so she ran after him and spent four days looking for him in her neighborhood before spotting him in another person’s yard. After asking neighbors if anyone owned him, she was informed his previous owners had left him behind after moving away.
So Tomyn decided to keep Boo, as well. The Flower Shop Boys have since been happily wreaking havoc, stealing hearts, delivering flowers, drinking water out of wine glasses, getting stuck in trees on Valentine’s Day and breaking all the rules — and flower vases.
“They get to do whatever they want,” Slone said. “If they break a vase, so what? They own the place.”