The white blanket still is there, on the shelf in the basement storage unit. Jackie Ceccarelli laid it there last spring, soon after the gray cat -- clearly pregnant -- came in through the broken cellar window. It walked up to her, purring.
It was the start of a nice friendship, a friendship that continued as the cat bore six kittens on that same blanket. The friendship grew as Ceccarelli, 22, and others in the Lackawanna apartment complex fed and petted the new mother. The friendship expanded to include the pet's attendance at backyard cookouts.
The friendship between the stray -- abandoned when a family moved out -- and residents in the brick, four-unit apartment buildings ended June 10. On that day, what sounds to me like an out-of-control animal control officer shot the mother cat dead in her basement home, along with two of the kittens.
Fred Grasso -- responding to what residents think was a complaint about a different cat -- claimed in court he acted after the "hissing" cat and kittens "came at me." The very idea of an "attack cat" sounds bizarre to me. Nor can I fathom why a man with a .22-caliber rifle felt threatened by a 10-pound cat and 6-week-old kittens. Nor do I understand why an animal control officer who supposedly feared that the cats were rabid -- as Grasso claimed -- discarded the corpses in a landfill, instead of preserving the bodies for testing.
It gets worse. I recently went to the building where the cats were killed. Grasso -- despite the possibility of a ricochet -- fired the rifle in a cellar with concrete walls and floor, four furnaces, four water heaters and two apartments directly overhead.
West Seneca Judge Richard Scott last week -- to the disbelief of Ceccarelli and other residents, to the outrage of SPCA officials -- dismissed animal cruelty charges and said Grasso was justified in executing the cat and kittens. We got a decision, but not justice.
At very least, Grasso showed such massively poor judgment that he should be taken off the job. I would not want this guy carrying a loaded rifle in my neighborhood. Yet Lackawanna Mayor Norm Polanski put Grasso back on the street.
"Did he use poor judgment? I don't know, I wasn't in that basement," Polanski said. "The judge said he did the right thing, and that's where it ends in my eyes."
Grasso's attorney called the cat and kittens "feral cats . . . a wild cat family."
That is not what I heard.
"We'd have cookouts, and the mother cat would sit with us and we'd pet her," Ceccarelli, a service station manager, told me. "The kittens were the size of your hand . . . Nobody here was afraid of these cats."
Patricia Murtha lives across the street. She met the "attack cat" when it rubbed against her while she was gardening.
"She'd let us pet her, and then she'd run back to the basement to be with her kittens," said Murtha, 58, a nurse's aide. "She was such an affectionate cat . . . None of us can believe the judge let [Grasso] go."
Murtha saw Grasso go in the building that day with a rifle and a black garbage bag. The bag was full when he came out.
"He dropped the bag on the ground, like [the cats] were garbage," Murtha said. "I cried when he told me he killed them . . . He said the other [four] kittens ran under the dryer, so he couldn't get them."
Grasso did not return a call for comment left on his answering machine.
The four surviving kittens, healthy and friendly, have since been adopted. But the mother cat and two kittens are dead. Fred Grasso, and his rifle, are back on the street.
Which ought to make for a lot of nervous animal lovers in Lackawanna.