A former waitress who bought the Pink Poodle restaurant in Crescent, Iowa, from her boss, inheriting dozens of cats in the process, has died. She was 60.

Doreen McNeil had Parkinson’s disease, said John McNeil II, her husband and high school sweetheart.

“She’s had it about 10 years now,” he said. “But I could see remnants of the disease earlier on. She couldn’t play softball anymore like she used to play. She was upset, but we went on with life.”

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For the last year or so, Doreen hadn’t been able to go to the Pink Poodle because of her health.

Parkinson’s affects muscle movement, John McNeil said. “The brain can’t tell your feet to move.”

“She had trouble holding her eyes open,” he said. “Every day was something different. But she was a fighter.”

The mother of three and grandmother of eight died July 12.

John and Doreen had been married 41 years.

Doreen worked at Mutual of Omaha for more than 30 years, but she began a second job as a waitress at Pink Poodle in 1983, eventually becoming close friends with former owner Mary Jo Paulison.

Paulison named Doreen the executor of her will when Paulison died in 2003. Doreen then bought the restaurant, wanting to take care of the longtime employees who had become as close as family to her.

“I didn’t want them to lose their jobs,” Doreen said in an interview with the Daily Nonpareil in 2008. “It wasn’t a question of if we should buy it; we had to.”

Although John said he didn’t like the idea at first, the couple kept themselves busy with work, home and business ownership, and their children.

“She dearly loved Pink Poodle. That was her fun job,” John said.

He said the couple unknowingly bought a property inhabited by “a hundred cats.”

For more than 20 years, Doreen fed the cats around the property and Pink Poodle.

John said she felt sorry for the cats. They would follow her home after her shift at the restaurant.

In 2012, the city ordered them to get rid of the feral cats.

John said the couple trapped cats and took most to a shelter, fixing 38 female cats total.

“I used to call her the mad cat lady from Crescent. There’s still three or four cats around now,” he said, adding that the couple also had a German shepherd and two Pekingese dogs.

Born in Omaha to the late Robert and Karen (Radil) Branigan on April 18, 1959, Doreen graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1977.

Her family moved to a housing addition in Council Bluffs, where John lived a few doors down.

The couple married and moved to Crescent in 1978. They had three children: John McNeil III, Joseph McNeil and Josh McNeil, who are now 36, 35 and 32 years old, respectively.

Another joy in her life was her eight grandchildren, John said.

She was preceded in death by her parents and brother, Jeff Branigan.

Survivors include her husband; her sons and their wives; her siblings, Doug Branigan, Lynn Branigan, Mike Branigan, Jack Branigan, Suzi Peregoy and Ron Branigan; her mother-in-law, Barbara Crowder; and her grandchildren.

As far as the Pink Poodle and its employees go, John said everyone is doing the best they can. So is the family, he said.

“(We’re) still numb, still grieving and that’s okay,” he said. “She will be missed dearly.”

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