Photography by Danny Fulgencio
A pair of guards lurks amid the teeming ferns in the greenhouse at Walton’s Garden Center, waiting to pounce on intruders that dare to devour the plants.

Employee Kate Walton, whose parents own the garden center, adopted the two working cats in January through a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals program intended to clear feral felines from the shelter and help businesses solve their rodent problem in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.

But the cats at Walton’s aren’t killers.

“We don’t really have a rodent problem. I just loved the idea of having a cat around,” Walton says. “I’m a big animal person, so I forced it on everybody — not that anyone really opposed. It’s a boost of morale every day when you come into work.”

Customers were equally excited about the new “employees.” Walton asked her followers on social media to help choose their names, and she received dozens of responses. Their official names are Callie and Petal, but several employees call them by alternative names. The 2-year-old cats are unsocialized, so they don’t really know their names anyway, Walton says.

The cats, a calico and a blackie, came spayed, microchipped and vaccinated. All Walton had to do was provide food, water and shelter. She set up a habitat in the back of the greenhouse and let the cats roam.

Callie and Petal spend their days hiding, and most customers don’t even notice them. But children love to look for the cats under wooden pallets or in the dark corners of the greenhouse.

On one occasion, Callie made a bold dash to the nursery, where she hid in a flowerpot until employees found her and brought her back to the safety of the greenhouse. On most days, the pets don’t venture out until dusk, when customers are gone and staff members begin locking the greenhouse.

When the garden is quiet, Callie and Petal love to play with toys or eat treats employees buy for them.

“My mom wanted a chubby cat that would lay around on the counter, and everyone wanted to attempt to play with them,” Walton says. “But these are unsocialized.”

Not a cat person? Not a problem. The cats don’t really like you either. But they do love each other. SPCA volunteers noticed that the cats had bonded before being adopted, and today, they’re never far from each other, even when they’re hiding.

“I thought this was a great opportunity to adopt a pet that may not have had that opportunity,” Walton says. “It’s been joyful. We’ve loved having them.”

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