Starkville elementary school mourns loss of kitty mascot

STARKVILLE — Students and teachers at Sudduth Elementary are fondly remembering Starkville’s most famous cat, Sally Sue, the school’s resident mascot for 13 years.

The white-and-tabby cat died Oct. 12 after a four-year battle with cancer.

A small tumor was found on Sally Sue’s shoulder four years ago, and she underwent surgery to get rid of the lump. The cancer required three more surgeries over the next four years before the doctors said there wasn’t much more they could do.

“She lived a lot longer than the doctors said she would,” Sudduth music teacher Kathy McGill said.

At the start of this school year, McGill could tell Sally wasn’t feeling like her usual self, and she took Sally to her home to live a more restful life than she could in a school full of small children.

In early October, McGill could tell Sally Sue’s health had taken a turn for the worst when she began to quit eating.

Though it was a hard decision for McGill and the other teachers who knew and loved the school’s feline mascot, she knew it was time to call the veterinarian to ensure Sally Sue wasn’t feeling any pain.

On Oct. 12, Sally Sue was put to sleep and buried in the school’s garden, where she had often napped in the sun or stalked her prey amidst the tall grass.

“I took half a day on Monday and we snuggled all afternoon till we came back to her home to meet the vet,” McGill said.

In the fall of 1996, kindergarten teacher Trish Cunetto and her class came upon Sally Sue sleeping on the front steps of the schools. Cunetto could tell the abandoned cat had been abused by the line of pink spray paint down her back and her thin frame. That was during the semester the students had to be taken by bus to Emerson Family School to eat lunch every day while the Sudduth cafeteria was undergoing renovations.

“One day, we came back from lunch and she was just laying there on the front steps,” Cunetto said. “So I picked her up and brought her to my classroom, and she laid down on one of my kids’ (nap) mats and fell asleep,” she remembered.

The next morning, when the cat was still there, then-principal Debbie Davis instructed the janitor to go to the store to get the cat some food and said, “‘I think we’ll just keep her,'” Cunetto recalled of Davis.

“She was such a sweet cat, there wasn’t a reason not to keep her,” Cunetto added.

The cat received immediate care from a veterinarian to make sure she hadn’t incurred any serious injuries during her time as a stray, and she was given all her vaccinations to alleviate potential safety concerns for the children. It seemed that as soon as Sally Sue came into the building, she adopted the school just as much as Cunetto adopted her.

Sally spent the next 13 years wandering the halls, playing with the children and even chasing away unwanted visitors.

Current principal Elizabeth Mosley remembered the time, in the middle of the night, the security alarm sounded thinking someone had broken into the school.

When Mosley and the police entered the building, they found a petite Sally Sue chasing a rather large tom cat up and down the halls. The male cat must have entered the building through Sally Sue’s cat door that the school put in just for her use.

“It took us forever to catch her,” Mosley laughed.

That wasn’t the first time Sally set off the alarm. It happened so often that, eventually, Mosley had to bring someone in to lessen the strength on the sensors of the motion detectors. Eventually, the cat door had to be sealed off as it let in many an unwanted furry visitor.

Over the years, Sally was a staple in the school. She attended music classes and sat in on many interviews with Mosley to make sure potential teachers were right for the job.

“The kids would play with the rhythm sticks and march around, and it never phased her. She would sleep right through it on top of the piano,” McGill recalled, her voice a little shaky. “She was such a good cat.”

One student, 7-year-old Molli Grace Brown, wrote a note to Sally that said, “She was the best mascot. I love you Saly Soo verey much. You maded my hart so happy. You are the best friend.”

Shea Staskowski/Starkville Daily News