Attractive women from teenagers to mid-forties tentatively step into Longwood Gardens’ Peirce-du Pont House, gazing around, not sure they want to be there, thinking they may have made a mistake by coming in the door, then notice Belin dozing in the chair and stand back studying him. “He is very tame,” I tell them, “and enjoys being petted.” They move closer, kneel down, almost nuzzling his face with their own. They stroke his fur, and mumble quietly to him in the endearing tones of a mother to her baby. Belin just lies there, mostly asleep, not even purring. But the women continue as their husbands or boy friends fidget.
Belin (BEE-lin) is the tamest cat in the world. He gets petted every day, all day long, often by several squealing ten-year-old girls at the same time, and he takes it all without the slightest offense. They scratch his chin, ears and head, pet him all over, lift his tail, feel the pads on his feet, and he barely wakes up. I sometimes jokingly tell them we think he died a week ago, but no one is sure.
Why are women, especially those under forty, so attracted to a cat who ignores them? When I ignore women, they ignore me back.
Longwood Gardens has about 12 semi-feral cats on the property to control the mice. Some live in residences on the property, but about five are commonly seen in the public areas. They roam all night on their own, but someone does feed them and a vet checks them twice a year. Each has chosen their own territory. Belin (the maiden name of Pierre du Pont’s wife, Alice Belin) resides in Longwood Gardens’ Peirce-du Pont House where my wife and I volunteer. They say he was rescued from a dumpster by the cafeteria in 2004 as a kitten and now enjoys sleeping all day on one of the sunny upholstered chairs in the house’s conservatory where, no doubt, Pierre himself often sat. In the summer, he lies outside on the asphalt near the door where he cannot be missed. He does not greet the visitors, but only lies quietly ready to receive their adulation. He is the most popular, by far, single item in all of Longwood, more than the rarest, most spectacular orchid or a 200-year-old tree. I have heard whichever cat has the Peirce-du Pont House as their territory is automatically named Belin. The current Belin is at least Belin II, and someday there will be a Belin III.
A twenty-something woman rushes in the door. We greet her, as is our job, but she quickly waves us off. “I only came to see Belin,” she tells us. “I come here every day.” Like the others, she kneels by his chair, pets him and mumbles to him. In a few minutes, satisfied, she abruptly stands and leaves.
A 7-year-old Asian girl looks intently at Belin sleeping on the asphalt outside, but standing well back. When I tell her he likes to be petted, she tentatively moves forward and reaches out to him. Her parents leave her totally absorbed in tenderly petting him while they tour the House. Fifteen minutes later, they are out and call for her to join them. She moves slowly away, reluctantly, looking back at Belin, then abruptly runs back for one last pet.
Recently I was walking towards the House to take a fall photo when Belin approached, walking down the middle of the walkway in the opposite direction. It was the first time I saw him up and about, and I knelt down and held out my hand. “Hello, Belin.” He did not give me the slightest sign of recognition, and kept right on walking. I felt as humble as Bartholomew Cubbins as the king passed by. A few minutes later, I returned and saw this unknown, attractive woman, herself feline, sitting on the ground petting him and cooing to him. I knelt down with my camera, he came over to pose, then, his duty done, left us both with regal disdain.
Belin opens many conversations. Almost anyone petting him will ask his name. “Belin,” I tell them.
“Belin?” they reply, struggling to get his name right.
“He is named after Alice Belin, Pierre’s wife,” I explain. I pause, letting that soak in, then add, “Or after Mary Belin, Pierre’s mother. He married his first cousin, even with the same family name. That starts a detailed discussion.
I have to ask my friend, the retired psychologist, about this attraction to women. Is it tied to their maternal instinct? Older women, say over 60, will ask about his background and study him intently, but at a distance, at most reaching out for a brief touch of his fur. Younger women, as young as 12, seem to have a strong, visceral attraction to him.
I, too, would like some of this adulation from young, attractive women. Would wearing a fur jacket help? Or, as Andre Agassi said, “Attitude is everything.”
I think one of the visitors was on to something. Belin acts like he owns the place, she said, because he does. He is the reincarnation of Pierre du Pont himself.
That would explain a lot. I have since been calling him “Mr. du Pont” out of respect. To others, I refer to him as “Pierre.” He seems pleased to hear it.
Update 9/24/2015: Belin was taken to a vet and passed away yesterday afternoon. He will be long remembered by many visitors and employees. I hope to find more details and will add them here.
Update 10/12/2015: Belin had been found by an employee behind the House (where he occasionally goes for private time) in severe respiratory distress. He was immediately taken to a veterinarian who determined he had an inoperable growth in his throat. To end his suffering, they allowed the vet to put him down. Belin died quietly, surrounded by caring friends, just as we would all like to go. Those who knew him well and saw him every day, say he was acting differently for about the previous month.