HOLMBERG: Cats help bring neighbors together in once-wild neighborhood

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RICHMOND, Va. -- You've heard of neighborhoods "going to the dogs."

But what does it mean when one goes to the cats?

I found out this past misty, drizzly Wednesday afternoon and evening while visiting the 700 block of N. 35th Street on the far eastern shoulder of Church Hill. That block is the home to the playground and park named after Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

It's a sweet street of old two-story frame houses, more than a few of them nicely restored.

Yes, it has become somewhat gentrified, but not too much to displace all the older residents.

N. 35th Street

N. 35th Street

And yes, it's long been a part of the rougher side of the Hill. There was a murder there in 2010. On Christmas Eve, 2011, two people were slain a block away.

And at about 11 p.m. this past August 23, deadly shots rang out again, this time in the alley by the playground. Killed were 26-year-old Rashamella Willingham, who lived in this block, and 31-year-old William White from N. 27th Street. The case remains unsolved.

I revisited the neighborhood in the drizzle after hearing about a more recent death in the block - Goldilocks the cat.

She was one of 10 or so feral cats that had been tamed, pretty much, by a neighborhood that has been pulling together and looking after each other, including the cats.

Two neighbors trapped the cats, took them to a vet for their shots and got them spayed and neutered and then brought them back to Bojangle's block, where a funny thing happened.

One of the neighborhood cats.

One of the neighborhood cats.

Some of the other neighbors started caring for the cats, which sort of drifted into their hearts.

"Good cats. Neighborhood cats," said neighbor Kevin Harris, who feeds two of them, loves on them and even gets them toys. He enjoys how they've taken to the neighborhood, greeting residents and frequent walkers - even dog walkers.

But they're still plenty wary. "They've got to get to know you," he said as he watched them scatter as I approached.

Goldilocks was cornered recently by two roving dogs - huskies, apparently - and was mauled to death.

"It was horrible, Mark," the neighbor who had cared for Goldilocks the most told me when I knocked on her door. "I can't talk about it."

Others on the street felt it.

"Ahh, that's sad," Kevin said. "I just found out."

Yes, it's bad news for those who cared for the once-wild thing in their less-wild neighborhood.

But the good news is, this is a neighborhood that's looking up - and is going to the cats.