It takes a special cat to leave paw prints on a person’s heart.
At West Orange High School, it was Twinkle Toes, the barn cat who spent most of her time with the FFA and agriscience students.
Twinkle died Saturday, Sept. 14, but the impact she had on the students lives on.
Better known as Twinkle, or simply Twink, she was the type of cat who could convert non-cat people into cat lovers — including junior Mackenzie Moore. When Twinkle first showed up in the agriculture yard two years ago, Moore wasn’t exactly thrilled.
“I said, ‘Why do we have a cat?’” Moore said. “I’m not a big cat person.”
But just as only Twinkle could, she wormed her way into Moore’s heart — and into the hearts of countless other agriscience students.
Sophomore Michael Jimenez-Navarro is new to the agriscience program, but in the short time he knew Twinkle, the two became fast friends.
“Whenever I went in to pet her — because she’s usually there in the garage — whenever I left the garage, she had always let me feel relaxed and a little less stressed,” Jimenez-Navarro said. “She was like a mute friend that doesn’t mind interactions.”
Twinkle showed up seemingly out of nowhere and quickly claimed the ag yard as her own, taking care of rats and other nuisance animals. She often ventured into the agriscience building to hunt down the rodents, too.
But even beyond acting as built-in pest control, Twinkle seemed in tune with the people — and animals — around her. Twinkle was fearless around animals many times her size, too — steer and cows included. She’d make her rounds around the ag yard and the building, checking in on both animals and people.
“I feed (my animals) in the mornings sometimes at 6 a.m.,” Moore said. “Every day when I started feeding I would pull up and she’d always walk up to my car and wait for me. She was just so friendly and loved everyone.”
Junior Joslyn Hui also would come early to feed her animals, and eventually she began feeding Twinkle, too. Twinkle would follow her around like a shadow. One time, Hui said, she found Twinkle grooming one of her rabbits. Another time, Twinkle was taking a nap with one. Somehow, she always seemed to know the difference between the program’s animals and ones that weren’t supposed to be there.
“I’ve honestly been through some rough stuff and I’ve had bad days where all your mind can focus on is the bad stuff, and all of a sudden I’d see Twink,” Hui said. “She’s helped all of us through rough stuff. It’s hard to be upset around Twink because she was always happy. It’s like she’s in her own little world and she just shares that with you for a bit. She was a cat who changed our lives more than most people ever will.”
“Twink was like a mom for humans, even though she was a cat,” said Eleanor Curran, a senior in the program. “She had that motherly instinct to come and coddle you. I had panic attacks at the end of last year, and I came running in here and was crying, and Twink was licking my face, and that told me it was gonna be OK.”
It was a tough week for the agriscience students following Twinkle’s death. On Monday, Sept. 16, many of them gathered for a small remembrance ceremony in the paddock, where she is buried.
But there are plenty of happy memories, too. Agriscience teacher and FFA adviser Kristy Lightbody recalls a time when she came to feed the animals over the weekend and walked into the classroom, where Kermit — the class’s African grey parrot — greeted her with his usual “hello.”
“I went across the hall to continue the feeding and heard Kermit ‘meow’ like a cat,” she said. “It sounded a lot quieter and more muffled than usual. Realizing it was not Kermit, but Twinkle Toes, I started going around checking everywhere for her. ... I soon realized that she was in the ceiling and meowing from above. We had to get a ladder to get her down and she was just staring at me like, ‘What do you mean I’m not supposed to be up here?’”
Sometimes, you could find Twinkle wedging herself inside a student’s open backpack or attempting to jump into one of their cars. And on occasion, she was known to steal someone’s Starbucks breakfast sandwich.
“It was very comforting having her around,” Lightbody said. “You could always tell that she was watching over the property and she was always very curious about what we were doing.”