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Lakeside residents remember 'little legend' Catsby

Catsby roamed the Lakeside neighborhood and hung out near Duluth East High School, where he was a popular "unofficial mascot." (Photo courtesy of Jasmine Acosta)

The death of a beloved neighborhood cat lit up social media Tuesday, with Duluth East High School students and Lakeside residents reflecting on the roving marvel that was Catsby.

"He did whatever he wanted but he had good intentions," said Duluth East senior Jasmine Acosta. "He was good to everyone and he brought us together as a school. When we found out he had passed it broke our hearts."

Catsby was struck by a vehicle near the school on Monday. He belonged to the Hagge family who live on the 4100 block of Lombard Street. But for the grey-toned cat, home was just a base of operations.

"He would always find a way out; he'd jump from the second-floor window if he had to," said Susan Hagge, describing Catsby as about 5 years old and having been "rescued from an outdoor environment in Brainerd."

Sources for this story painted the picture of a social cat that would hop into people's trunks as they unloaded groceries, spread himself across the Lakewalk courting attention, stop prep soccer games with on-field appearances and trigger the sliding doors of the Ecumen Lakeshore senior living community before waltzing in to make himself at home.

"They loved him there," said Mara Hagge, Susan's 23-year-old daughter. "He was similar to a dog in that he loved the adoration of strangers."

In death as in life, Catsby tripped social media like a Kardashian, appearing on Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and more. Catsby had his own Instagram account thanks to Duluth East seniors, who bequeathed the account's administration to the next class upon graduation.

Catsby was well-known in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Jasmine Acosta)English teacher Danielle Westholm adored the wordplay in the cat's name, referring to "The Great Gatsby." She recalled leaving the school late one night, using her phone's flashlight to navigate the dark hallways. Into view as she descended a staircase came the glowing green eyes of Catsby, who she picked up and drove home.

"I drove him home on multiple occasions," Westholm said. "He loitered outside the school all the time. He was more of a mascot than Gregory Greyhound."

Some students wore black to school and others cutout hearts that read "RIP Catsby" and "We'll miss you, Catsby."

Principal Danette Seboe, sensitive to news with more gravity, declined her students' request for a moment of silence for Catsby, but she acknowledged the impact the cat had on the school. "He became this little legend," she said.

Jenny Truebenbach lives across the alley from the Hagges and would find Catsby napping and sunning himself on the hood of her car. She last recalled seeing Catsby shortly after the July storm that knocked down trees across Duluth. The cat was on the Lake Superior shore, perched on a rock and watching the scene unfold.

"He was a fascinating, interesting cat," she said.

Wearing a collar and tag bearing the Hagges' phone number, Catsby drew attention from concerned businesses and residents in the swath of Duluth from the McDonalds at 21st Avenue East and London Road all the way to 53rd Avenue East. Susan admitted that not all neighbors adored the cat, and the Hagges were on a first-name basis with the city's animal control.

"That got to be expensive," she said, adding that it was nothing for the cat to be gone for two to three days at a time.

Catsby's peripatetic spirit separated him from the other two cats in his home, where he got along but also was kept at a distance.

"They weren't cuddle buddies," Susan said.

Instead, Catsby would stretch out across the pavement of the Lakewalk and lure streaming passersby into acknowledging him.

"That was one of his favorite moves," Mara said. "He made himself very noticeable."

Family and friends took the loss hard, especially as news of his death spread the night of his passing. Acosta was among the last people to see Catsby alive as he walked with her to a park after school. It recalled the moment she met Catsby on her first day of sophomore year. A transfer from Superior, Acosta was approached by Catsby and she took it as a good sign.

"It made me feel like I wasn't alone," she said, before echoing sentiments from people throughout Lakeside. "Granted, he wasn't my pet, but I treated him as if he were and he was a great part of my life."