He started out stealing gloves, bras and sponges. Now it seems he’s stolen America’s heart.
Dusty, a.k.a. the Klepto Cat, is not news to his San Mateo neighbors. For the past three and a half years, say owners Jean Chu and Jim Coleman, people on the block have known about his strange hobby: stealing things from nearby homes.
But over the past two weeks, Dusty’s story has exploded, reaching national and even international audiences.
Dusty is fond of roaming his Beresford Manor neighborhood at night in search of towels, gloves, socks, underwear, swimsuits, balls, bags, balloons, toys – really any loose object that he’s able to drag back to his house. On a slow night, he might steal just one or two items. On a busy night, close to a dozen.
“He’s just opportunistic,” Chu explains.
The family lived quietly this way for years, with Dusty bringing things home and Chu washing, cleaning and stacking them to return to the neighbors. But two weeks ago, Dusty went big-time. On Feb. 12, Animal Planet aired a show about Dusty’s thieving ways, complete with night-vision footage of the cat dragging stolen items down the sidewalk. The oddball footage began circulating wildly on the Internet.
Things progressed quickly from there. Vic Lee, of ABC Channel 7, saw the Animal Planet spot and decided to do his own story. His local report turned out to be a runaway hit, and was picked up by ABC affiliates across the country. Brian Copeland called to talk about Dusty.
Then came calls from The Early Show, Fox and Friends, NPR, Jay Leno and David Letterman.
“I got a call from a radio station in Sydney, Australia asking for an interview,” Chu said, still amazed at the attention her cat has received.
Last week, the Late Show flew Chu, Coleman, their two daughters and Dusty out to New York for an interview with Letterman. They put the family up in a nice hotel with views overlooking Central Park, Chu said.
Dusty was a star, with several minutes of stage time in Coleman’s arms as Chu answered Letterman’s questions. Backstage in the green room, that night’s musical act, the rock band Deerhunter, wanted their picture taken with Dusty.
Though Chu thought maybe her cat could someday gain a little notoriety, she never imagined anything like this. Mostly she just chuckled at the new items strewn about on her lawn each morning.
A compulsive jotter, Chu has kept a record of every object Dusty brought in from the moment she realized he was doing it. So she knows, for example, that on July 20, 2009, Dusty brought in four towels, four socks, a small mesh bag, a potholder and a yellow glove. In all, she says, “I can list 550 some-odd (items), and I know there are others I threw away.”
Where is he finding all these things? Chu doesn’t know – maybe he’s entering detached garages, she theorizes, or neighbors are keeping the items in their back yards.
Whatever he does, he’s elusive about it: Before the Animal Planet footage, Dusty’s thefts were very rarely seen.
“I saw him once only,” Chu said. “I was sitting out in the front and he came in with a glove.”
Across the street, 5-year-old twins Michael and Lena Flocas talked cheerfully about some of the items that have walked away over the years.
“We lost really a lot of stuff,” Michael said. “He took balls, stuffed animals, socks, shoes …”
“My mom’s underwear,” Lena interjected.
“But they were all cleaned, just like Chinese laundry,” Chu said. “They were all cleaned and folded.”
At first, just to put them someplace, Chu was bringing the items to in South San Francisco. One day, she looked around and said, “There’s a lot here!”
Patients started to get on her case, telling Chu, “It’s a mess here, when are you gonna get rid of this stuff?”
Since then Chu, Coleman and their teenage daughters – one attends and the other – have been working to cut back on the clutter.
Dusty’s activities aren’t helping. And there’s no indication he'll be cutting it out anytime soon.
“Dusty was always a character, right from the get-go,” Chu says.