It was December 24, 2014, when Guernsey Press first reported on a local ginger cat who made it his life's mission to comfort mourners in a local cemetery. At St. Sampson's, Barney the cat was always on hand to provide feline affection to people dealing with loss.
Now, Barney has himself passed away -- and there are plans for a bench and plaque to commemorate his presence in the cemetery he called home. The Facebook page of Guernsey Press announced the news, revealing Barney had spent at least two decades as part of the community. Cemetery sexton Alan Curzon spoke of the absence that has been felt upon the loss of this memorable feline caretaker.
"He has been a great comfort to so many people. He is going to be sadly missed."Over Christmas 2014, Curzon said Barney's presence made things easier on those visiting during the holiday season. It is a time of year when loss is felt even more greatly, and Barney did what he could to ease the pain.
"He is a much loved and very adorable cat. For those who enter the cemetery with a heavy heart, he lightens the experience for them. When people walk through the gates, he often comes up to them and brushes against them. There is not a bad bone in his body."Curzon explained that Barney's family once lived next to the cemetery, but moved away. Barney kept returning to the area and eventually settled there on his own.
Buzzfeed reported that locals offered their stories of visiting St. Sampson and the comfort Barney provided. In the comment section on Guernsey Press's Facebook page, people described cuddling with Barney or having him suddenly appear behind a headstone. Some sat with Barney while visiting the graves of their loved ones.
Curzon said Barney's presence at St. Sampson went all the way back to the mid-1990s.
"I started working at the cemetery in 1995 and Barney was born in 1996. His owners lived in the house right next door and they were there for 3-4 years but then they moved a mile away.Curzon also revealed that Barney seemed to know when someone needed support.
"They took Barney with them as you do but he kept disappearing and coming back to the cemetery and eventually we made a home for him there."
"I've seen him climb on a headstone and rub up against people during burials and help them through a very sad time."Back in 2007, the BBC reported that cats could sense illness in humans and would react by curling up next to them. Scientists guessed that cats were smelling a chemical emitted as the body began to shut down or were simply reacting to the change in human behavior as a death of a loved one approached. But readers of the story offered anecdotal evidence of their cats offering them comfort as they were grieving the loss of a loved one.
There is some scientific evidence that animals know when humans are in pain -- and will try to step in and help. A 2012 study found dogs were more likely to approach a person crying over someone humming or talking. The dogs used body language that demonstrated empathy. Of course, the researchers don't know what the dogs were thinking, and emphasized the findings are not conclusive, but most pet owners know there is often comfort to be found from that snuggle from their favorite dog -- or neighborhood cat.
[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]