Arthel & Onyx
By Audrey Pavia
Published in Cat Fancy, 1997
You've no doubt seen her on TV, her big smile and sparkling eyes warming up the screen. She has acted on "Cybill," "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and "Days of Our Lives." She has served as the anchor for the news magazine shows, "Extreme Closeup" and "Extra Entertainment." Right now, she is co-host of NBC's newest morning talk show, "Arthel and Fred."
This warm and talented entertainer is none other than Arthel Neville, the daughter of Art Neville, the keyboardist for the Grammy-winning Neville Brothers. But aside from her credentials in Hollywood and her celebrity pedigree, Arthel is known for something else: Her passion for her cat, Onyx.
Onyx came into Arthel's life 13 years ago when Arthel was still a journalism student at the University of Texas in Austin. Arthel's life at the time was difficult: She was working full-time as a reporter for an ABC affiliate in Austin in addition to attending school on a full-time basis. "I'd always had dogs, but I just didn't have time to take care of a dog," she says. She had only recently transferred from another school in Dallas, where she'd been in love with a black cat named Midnight, owned by an acquaintance. "Not long after I got to Austin, a co-worker told me "There's a litter of black kittens listed in the paper. A lady is giving them away," says Arthel. "I went there and picked out Onyx from a litter of all- black kittens. I don't know why I picked her. There was just something about her. I saw her and I thought 'That's my kitty, right there.' "
The bond that seemed to instantly develop between Arthel and Onyx was soon to deepen once she brought the kitten home. Arthel was going through a difficult time in her life, living in a new city, working a new job and attending a new school. "I was very lonely and overwhelmed, and Onyx got me through a lot of lonely times," she says. "I would come home and talk to her. I knew she loved me. So she got me through that period."
Arthel says that Onyx's typically feline sense of humor also helped her during those hard times. "She would act really wacky," she says. "She would run through the apartment and hang from the curtains."
While Arthel's life eventually became easier, Onyx always remained at her side. "We have always had a special relationship," says Arthel. "Before I got married, she was even mentioned on my answering machine. The outgoing message told callers that they could leave a message for me AND Onyx."
Once Arthel did get married - to Derrick Lassic, a pro-football running back who most recently played for the Dallas Cowboys - the extent of her commitment to Onyx hardly changed. This was despite the fact that her new husband didn't appreciate Onyx's habit of sleeping in Arthel's bed at night. "That was one hurdle we had to overcome when we got married," says Arthel. "I like Onyx sleeping with me, but he doesn't like it."
To help keep the peace in her new marriage, Arthel had to ask Onyx to sleep outside the bedroom from then on. "Making that compromise was a really big deal for me," she says. "Onyx is okay about it now, but in the beginning, she would just meow by the door, like she was saying 'Please please let me in.' And I felt really bad."
Eventually, Onyx got used to the new arrangements. However, during the times when Derrick is away, Onyx and Arthel go back to their old routine. "Whenever he's away, she sleeps with me. She knows the difference. It's like she's saying 'Oh good, he's gone.'"
Even though she has to sleep outside the bedroom most of the time, Onyx still leads the kind of life that only the cat of a celebrity could lead. "Onyx has taken quite a number of trips with me," says Arthel. "She should have frequent flyer miles. And she has moved all over the place with me too." Onyx also gets to go to the production studio on occasion when her famous owner is needed on the set. "I don't take her too often since she's more comfortable at home, but when I do bring her with me, she stays in the dressing room while I'm working. Everyone gets excited when they see her with me."
Onyx's reaction to the attention of strangers is one of the things that Arthel seems to find most amusing about her special cat. "When people come to visit with her, she acts like an Egyptian queen," she says. "She will walk around and let you look at her, but don't touch her until she gets to know you. She's much too beautiful for you to touch her. It's like she's saying 'Listen people, don't get carried away. You're lucky I came out for you to look at me, but as far as you touching me, really, don't get too carried away. I might brush by you to say hello, but that's it.'"
When Arthel and Onyx are alone, they enjoy playing with each other, especially if the game is feline hide and seek. Arthel describes Onyx's version of the game like this: "I hide behind a door and then I peep out from behind the corner. We look at each other, and then I move my head so that the door is blocking my eyes. Then she'll move so she can see my eyes. Then I Look around the corner at her, get behind the door, and then look around the corner again. She'll then run to where I am."
Onyx isn't big on toys, even though her mistress has tried to entice her with all kinds of stuff. "I've tried many toys over the years, but she's not into them," says Arthel. "The only thing she likes to play with is string or yarn." Onyx does have a penchant for catnip, however. "She just loves catnip," Arthel says. "She really likes to roll in it. My mom - Onyx's grandmother - thinks Onyx is going to get addicted to catnip. She says 'Don't give her too much of that, she's going to get hooked on it!'"
Everyone in Arthel's family seems to view Onyx as one of the clan, no doubt because this is how Arthel feels about her. "She's definitely part of the family," says Arthel. "When people ask about us, they ask about her too. I don't have any children yet, so she is it."