By Monica Wood Photographed by Greta Rybus
The Department of Labor’s catch-all for the sole proprietors that don’t fit any other category, Other is a top-ten industry in this micro-business state. Other includes 16,833 jobs like personal care and machinery repair but isn’t, predictably, dominated by any single persuasion.
“I wasn’t cut out for regular employment,” muses Hilda Taylor, hauling a tubby, black-and-white rescue cat onto her lap. A second feline (orange-striped Rubin, a real looker) snoozes on the chair back as a third (gray, geriatric Bingo) arrives to get his due. Catrina, a doddering calico, is sacked out in a fluffy basket, and that ain’t even close to the half of it. Current cat census: Sixteen. “I have two basements,” Hilda sighs. “One is full of cats. The other is full of stuff for making cat furniture.”
Crazy cat lady? Not exactly. In the mid-nineties, after working a clerical job long enough to buy a bargain duplex in downtown Portland, Hilda quit conventional employment to join a time-honored tribe of Maine outliers who make their slender living on the margins. Floated by rental income, Hilda launched Urban Catsitters, a one-woman home-visit service for doting cat owners on vacation. To compensate for working with “wealthy, pampered cats,” she volunteered with a trap-neuter-release program for unloved tabbies living in barns, streets, and alleys; her weakness in “release” accounts for the lucky freeloaders hogging all the chairs.
Another, more recent outgrowth of Urban Catsitters is the furniture scheme — mostly theoretical at present, though prototypes abound in Hilda’s clean, cluttered house: four-poster kitty bed; elaborate cat tree; reclaimed table gussied up to hide a litter box; and a goodly number of flea-market sugar bowls repurposed as custom-decorated cremation urns and “fur keepers.” (Yes, they’re occupied.)
Luckily, Hilda found a mate of similar stripe in Klay Brewer — stonemason, snow clearer, NASCAR aficionado, and maestro of municipal heavy-item pickups. Together they clip coupons, cruise eBay, and stitch together a living, a matched pair whose eyes once locked across a crowded barn. “The first thing we ever did together,” Hilda recalls, “was trap a cat.” Meow.