Operation Blueberry has succeeded. The campaign was long, became bogged down but finally irresistible overcame formidable. This is to say we have a new cat. Her name is Blueberry. She is black, white and the kind of soft you want to fall into if your parachute doesn't open.

Blueberry is a stray. She had camped at a neighbor's house. His house was home to another cat, and his allegiance belonged to her.

Since August, when we lost Callie, our cat of 18 years, he sensed weakness and began Operation Blueberry. He kept the black and white cat on his back porch, fed her and brought her over for visits. He extolled her best features. He became part publicist, part manager.

He brushed her until her black and white fur shone. If it would have helped, he would have taken her to the beauty shop, a finishing school and strung a silver bell around her neck.

"She likes being brushed," he said, as if this was some sort of feline miracle.

I don't know if she was the first cat in history to like being brushed, but it seemed unusual, if not a strength. If nothing else, grooming made her look more appealing. She was the Scarlett Johansson of stray cats.

Scarlett with considerably more heft, as if Blueberry had been on location and skipped sessions with her personal trainer. Although strays might normally trend toward thin, Blueberry was heavier than a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with a fresh batch of cornbread in it.

Her robustness was not a selling point. Sue wanted a kitten. She wanted to go through the cuter-than-a-button stage.

I called her Blueberry, thinking it might help if I named her. She was round, blueberries taste good and Blueberry is fun to say. The black and white cat became Blueberry but Blueberry still didn't have a home other than our neighbor's back porch.

One night we had a party, and Blueberry came to visit. Guests marveled, encouraged and did everything they could to make the sale.

"I'd take that cat home," said one of them. "What a great cat."

Now I had competition. It was like bidding on a house with somebody from Oxy who is moving from Houston. They were playing with house money and our house wasn't playing.

A few days later, Blueberry appeared at the front door while we were watching the fifth season of "Friday Night Lights." Coach Taylor and his wife, Tami, never gave up on a kid. I thought, and it might have been the two glasses of wine that I had had and Blueberry sitting on my lap, that there was a subliminal message that extended to caring for stray animals.

Two episodes later, after Blueberry had shown passable interest in the fortunes of the East Dillon Lions, Sue spoke.

"Well, I can see which way this is going," she said, stroking Blueberry's head. "Make sure she's fixed and buy a scratching pole."

Blueberry had already been fixed and the next day I bought a scratching pole, which looked like an orange caution cone with gray carpet glued to it. There were fancier ones selling for $100 -- more like mansions than condos -- but the charm of a free cat is not to overspend on the accoutrements.

Blueberry was ready. The only way she could have been more prepared would have been if she had arrived at the front door wearing a brush strapped to her back.

She has been sleeping in the usual spots: in front of the fire, on the green chair, sprawled across the window seat. Places that used to frame Callie are now making masterpieces of her successor.

"She looks cute there," Sue admitted.

Sue trotted the new cat by Thomas. When he lived at home, Thomas was Callie's protector and greatest supporter among the kids. He gave Blueberry the nod.

Blueberry is not Callie. However, Kobe is not Magic either. Callie is a tough act to follow, but this one will probably blaze her own Blueberry sky.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily The Californian's.

Email him at hbenham@bakersfield.com