Sprawled across the sales counter at Rockin Rudy's or sampling the foam from a customer's latte, Bubba the cat commanded affection and attention wherever he roamed, and from all those who encountered him.
A sumptuous feline with extravagant tastes and a vast sense of entitlement, Bubba weighed 22 pounds at the height of his girth. He led a fine life and spent nearly two decades roaming the aisles of the eclectic gift and music shop at 237 Blaine St. in Missoula.
Bubba established himself as a favorite furry icon in the Garden City, and when he died last month at 20 years of age the outpouring of grief made it clear that he would not soon be forgotten.
Wearing a thick coat of pumpkin-orange, Bubba negotiated his bulky carriage through customers' legs and sat regally perched on CD display racks. He enjoyed long afternoon naps in his wicker basket in the music department and relished warm days when he could sun himself on the shop's back stoop.
He also had a benevolent streak, and a memorial fund was established in Bubba's name at the Humane Society of Western Montana. A spray of flowers lined his basket for days after Bubba's death, and when they wilted friends delivered other assortments, freshly picked from their garden. Children's drawings and other mementos are peppered throughout the store in his favorite spots.
"Mostly he was just spoiled rotten. He really ruled the roost around here," Rockin Rudy's business manager Sandy Trenkle said. "I started working here about 12 years ago and the very first day of work Bubba came over and peed on my tennis shoes. He was here a long, long time before I started working, and he wanted to send a message."
"He would just convey what he wanted and all the staff members would do everything they could to accommodate him," staff member Beth Bramhall said. "He had a pretty powerful presence."
About three years ago, Marguerite Munsche, a classical music host at KUFM, began visiting Bubba every day to brush his ample coat, which she noticed had become matted in places. She also washed his bed and otherwise primped, preened and pampered him.
It was Munsche who would scrape the foam from the top of her lattes, or the whipped cream from her hot chocolate, and feed the creamy dollops to Bubba as a decadent treat. She also delivered pizza and lox as a snack, his favorites.
"It's calcium. It's good for a cat," Munsche said. "After all, it helped him live to be almost 20."
"I still go by there just about every day by force of habit," Munsche said.
"She was really devoted to Bubba," Bramhall said of Munsche. "That kind of showed his power."
He was also a keen manipulator, and possessed a talent for maximizing the number of square meals he could finesse from various staff members throughout the day.
After a feeding from one employee, Bubba might discreetly seek out someone else on the opposite side of the store and release an "I'm hungry" mew.
Although Bubba had scores of friends, fans and serf-like assistants, he was decidedly store owner Bruce Micklus' cat.
Micklus lived across the street from Rockin Rudy's for years and one day spotted a stray cat in his yard. It was Bubba, and he didn't seem inclined to leave anytime soon. But Micklus already had a cat, who didn't appreciate Bubba's interloping.
And so, Micklus brought him across the street to the store, to which he acclimated rather quickly.
A knee injury flared up in the final years of Bubba's life, and, coupled with old age, eventually reduced him to a sedentary lifestyle. Munsche visited him one day after his energy had begun to wane for what would be the final time, and found Bubba sleeping on the store's upstairs level with the night watchman.
She whispered that she would leave him to rest, but when Bubba heard the familiar voice he slowly blinked his eyes and let out a soft "meow."
Munsche sat with him and talked to him, and when it was time to leave she turned to him and said, "just like I always did, ‘I love you.' "
"I went home and bawled for about an hour," she said. "It's still hard to talk about him, but you know, I would like to come back in my next life as Bubba, because he had a great medical plan and with all of those servants he led pretty good life."
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.