The Fur Will Be Flying in Pittsburgh as Smokey the Cat Goes on Trial for Feline-ious Assault

updated 04/04/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The letters are addressed simply Smokey, Wood Street, but the mailman knows just where to deliver them: J.R. Weldin Co., Pittsburgh's oldest office-supply store. And thereby hangs a tail.

The tail belongs to Smokey, a 17-year-old cat who for the last eight years has entertained patrons as he sunned in the Weldin store window or lounged by the cash register. But last Oct. 19 a customer, one Nicole (Nickki) Sikorski, 19, claimed that Smokey scratched her; in November she filed a $3,000 negligence suit against the store in small-claims court.

Sikorski, a legal secretary, alleges that Smokey came at her—not exactly on little cat feet—when she tried to buy tape for her boss, Richard Johnson, the attorney who's handling the complaint. The scratches on Sikorski's left hand make her look "like a heroin addict," says Johnson, who is asking $1,500 in damages (for "psychological discomfort, shock and dismay") and $1,500 in medical costs.

The hearing, before three arbiters, is set to begin next week and has become something of a paws célébre in Pittsburgh. Three local lawyers have volunteered to represent Smokey, although Weldin's attorney, Gary Ludin, will act as counsel. The store has set up a Smokey Defense Fund and collected $2,000—not exactly kibble—from concerned citizens. "We have insurance to cover this," says the store's owner, Peg Brown, who insists Smokey is innocent, "so the money will actually go to various animal charities."

Both sides are going at the case tooth and nail. Johnson will introduce as evidence the four color photos taken of Nickki's hands, and he's invoking local ordinances against harboring an animal in a place of business. Meanwhile, 100 people are planning to show up as character witnesses for the defendant. Will Smokey himself take the stand? Advises his attorney: "Not unless he's subpoenaed."

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