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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Curious Louisiana discovers the story behind Catwoman Janice Entertainment / Life


When Lafayette’s Lana Henry went to New Iberia’s city park in April, she couldn’t help but notice a cute swing featuring a metal cat and a plaque reading “Cat Lady Janice, 1960- 2017”. Henry said she was struck by the unusual monument and wanted to know its story.

“I’m one of those people who is passionate about memorials of all kinds,” she said last week. “I love hanging out around cemeteries. I love the things people do to honor people’s memories. When I see the swing, I think, ‘Oh, I wonder who this is.'”

To answer Henry’s question, I first called Suzy Kimball, an expert on New Iberian affairs. She wasn’t familiar with the swing, but five minutes later, in true neo-Iberian fashion, she texted me the full story and a list of people who had direct access to it.

In fact, Cat Lady Janice is Janice Giddry Fox. She was raised in a large loving family in Opelousas.

When her husband, Jeff Fox, began to tell me about his wife, his voice cracked. The two, married for 33 years, met on Janice’s first day at college.

“I was at a frat party,” he said. “She was passing by with a friend as I was standing on the steps. I looked at my friend and said, ‘Well. She has potential.'”

Years later, when the fraternity house on the University of Louisiana’s Lafayette campus was demolished, the couple went back and picked up a few bricks from the steps where they first met.

The couple moved to New Iberia after their marriage, where they lived in an old Victorian house on Main Street. “This is where you imagine the Cat Lady would live,” he said.

According to her husband, Janice Fox is known for her love of cats.

“She used to go to the park and take yoga classes and then go out and see these stray cats,” he said. “I once told her she needed a hobby—she got a crusade.”

She recruited others, mostly women, to help her feed, trap, and neuter feral cats.She started a non-profit organization SNIP, or the Spay Neuter Iberia Project, which is still largely run by her friend Katherine Melancon. Jeff Fox added that it could use some volunteers.

“They found homes for the cats. She went out and inspected the homes, like I do as a social worker, to make sure they were suitable for having babies,” Fox said. “We have an empty rental unit at our house in New Iberia and she uses it as our cat rescue headquarters. She’ll fight ringworm. She’ll stay up all night.”

Janice Fuch’s cousin, Wilda Schommer, came up with the idea and is responsible for the swing in New Iberia.

“Janice is the most wonderful woman in the world,” Shore said. “We thought it would be nice to put a swing in the park near where she feeds the cats.”

Shore, who lives in Arizona and New Hampshire, said that even after Janice Fox was diagnosed with one of the most aggressive types of brain tumors in 2010, she continued to care for the wildcats in New Iberia.

Jeff Fox said the cancer advanced before she realized she had a problem, and she lived another seven years after her diagnosis.

“For the longest time, that didn’t disappoint her,” Schumer said. “She was there with the cats every day. Kathy Melanken was a big help and still is.”

Schumer worked with the park to get permission to build the swing set. The family planted flowers and trees around the swing. She signed Doyle Boudreaux to make the cat for the swing top.

“It has a little clipper on its ear — it’s perfect,” Schaumer said.

Jeff Fuchs credits Schaumer for everything but the plaque.

“Vilda and Janice are very close,” he said. “But I made this plaque — that’s why it says ‘Janice the Cat Lady.'” Surnames like Fox are the culprits of vandalism. ”

He started telling me about his wife’s final days and the two cats she had left him.

“She had a cat that couldn’t be dragged from the bed when she was dying,” he said. “The cat was perfectly fine until the day she died. After that he couldn’t move. He died of a broken heart four months later. I was force-feeding him.”

Six years later, Jeff Fox is still caring for “the last cat,” Janice Fox called “Buddy,” who is suffering from kidney failure.

“I think Buddy is kind of like Janice in being there for me,” he said. “I take him to therapy twice a week. I don’t stay overnight. I hardly ever go out because of Buddy.”

The two were close, but that wasn’t always the case.

“Buddy didn’t accept me for seven years,” he said. “But just before Janice died, he developed a passion for me. I had a feeling he knew it would be just the two of us one day. And now, 15 years on, he’s still here. He’s with me through The darkest days. … I have a reason to get up every day – I have to take care of him.”

He said when his wife died, she asked for her ashes to be buried in their backyard, where they buried cats over the years.

“I buried a little urn with some of her ashes and some bricks we got from the steps we met,” Jeff Fox said. “When I sold the house, the person who bought it assured me he Will look after the little monument in our yard.”

Even now, six years after her death, Jeff Fox says it still hurts. He still visits his late wife’s family on weekends.

“I still break down sometimes,” he said. “Six years later, I still talk about her in every conversation I have.”

After his wife’s death, he moved to Lafayette, and while he’s glad other people liked the swing she remembered, he couldn’t go there yet.

“She’s the kind of person you just can’t get over,” Jeff Fox said of his late wife Janice the Catwoman.

Curious about Louisiana is a community-driven reporting project that connects readers with our newsroom resources to dig, research and find answers about the Pelican State. Bottom line: If you have questions about anything Louisiana-centric, please ask us at: Curious Louisiana @theadvocate.com.


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