South Charlotte

This cool cat gets plenty of attention

Residents of Sharon Towers, a continuing-care retirement community in SouthPark, enjoy the companionship of the sweet-faced 5-year-old roaming the corridors basking in attention.

The object of their affection is Zaxby: a large, gentle Maine coon cat who lives at the community full-time.

Zaxby was adopted from a shelter and has called Sharon Towers home since he was about 6 months old, says licensed recreational therapist Elizabeth Byrd, 37. Byrd says she and another staff member chose Zaxby for his "spunky personality."

This lucky cat claims celebrity status around the campus, thanks to a monthly column called "Pawsing for the News with Zaxby" that he's credited with writing in the community newsletter, The Sentinel, read by residents and their families.

Byrd pens the column for Zaxby, being careful to craft observations from a feline perspective on life, of course.

"I try to do it from the approach of he just happens upon this news," said Byrd.

An animal's presence contributes to an atmosphere of wellness. While Zaxby isn't a certified therapy animal, Byrd says, the interaction he provides is therapeutic nevertheless, offering residents socialization and purpose.

"He's very smart - very intuitive, I think, of people," said Byrd.

Residents in independent-living situations at the community are permitted cats or small dogs if they live in apartments, and larger dogs if the residents live in the cottages, Byrd said.

Residents in health care and assisted-living arrangements at the site don't keep individual pets, however, so that's where having Zaxby around fills a void.

Zaxby is easygoing and steers clear of anyone who doesn't like the company of cats. He has a few charming eccentricities, however; he's afraid of maintenance tool carts or anything else with wheels, says Byrd.

And he insists on flinging a couple pellets of dry food into his water bowl before drinking.

He receives regular veterinary care and has all recommended vaccinations.

Zaxby also wears a special WatchMate collar for safety. If he meanders too close to elevators, an alarm on the elevators will sound, alerting staff.

Caring for Zaxby requires a team effort, says Byrd. All staff members have a rapport with him, but some of the nurses are especially fond of him.

Zaxby also maintains strong bonds with certain residents.

Paul Bell, 89, a native Charlottean, sometimes keeps the door of his room open in case Zaxby wants to saunter in while he plays computer games, reads magazines or watches TV. Bell has happy memories of his own pets from earlier years, including a Persian cat, a German shepherd and a Siberian husky.

"They were wonderful," said Bell.

Maida Frye, 82, grew up around cats and dogs in her family. She, too, likes spending time with Zaxby in a sitting area at Sharon Towers.

"We want it to feel like home," said Byrd.