By Vicki Myron
By Bret Witter
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Now everyone’s favorite library cat can inspire a new audience of young readers with his story of courage and love. Abandoned in a library book drop slot in the dead of winter, this remarkable kitten miraculously endured the coldest night of the year. Dewey Readmore Books, as he became known, quickly embraced his home inside Spencer’s public library, charming the struggling small town’s library-goers, young and old. As word of Dewey’s winning tail, or rather his tale, spread, the library cat gained worldwide fame as a symbol of hope and proof positive that one small cat could change a town, one reader at a time.
Copyright © 2010 by Vicki Myron
The MARTY MOUSE® trademark is owned by The Hartz Mountain Corporation and is used with permission.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: May 2010
Lost and Found
You find all kinds of things in a library book return box—garbage, snowballs, soda cans. Stick a hole in a wall and you're asking for trouble. I should know. My name is Vicki Myron, and I am the former director of the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa. At our library, the book return slot was in a back alley across the street from the town's middle school, so rocks and snowballs were the least of our worries. Several times we were startled in the middle of the day by a loud explosion from the back of the library. Inside the book return box, we'd find a firecracker.
After the weekend, the drop box would also be full of books, so every Monday morning I took them out of the box and loaded them onto one of our book carts. Same thing every week. Until one morning, one of the coldest mornings of the year, when I came in with the book cart and found Jean Hollis Clark, a fellow librarian, standing dead still in the middle of the staff room.
"I heard a noise from the drop box," Jean said.
"What kind of noise?"
"I think it's an animal."
"An animal," Jean said. "I think there's an animal in the drop box."
That was when I heard it, a low rumble from under the metal cover. It didn't sound like an animal. It sounded like an old man clearing his throat.
But the opening at the top of the chute was only a few inches wide, so that would be quite a squeeze for an old man. It had to be an animal. But what kind? I got down on my knees, reached over to the lid, and hoped for a chipmunk.
What I got instead was a blast of freezing air. The night before, the temperature had reached minus fifteen degrees, and that didn't take into account the wind, which cut under your coat and squeezed your bones. And on that night, of all nights, someone had jammed a book into the return slot, wedging it open. It was as cold in the box as it was outside, maybe colder, since the box was lined with metal. It was the kind of cold that made it almost painful to breathe.
I was still catching my breath, in fact, when I saw the kitten huddled in the front left corner of the box. It was tucked up in a little space underneath a book, so all I could see at first was its head. It looked gray in the shadows, almost like a little rock, and I could tell its fur was dirty and tangled. Carefully, I lifted the book. The kitten looked up at me, slowly and sadly, and for a second I looked straight into its huge golden eyes. Then it lowered its head and sank down into its hole.
At that moment, I lost every bone in my body and just melted.
The kitten wasn't trying to appear tough. It wasn't trying to hide. I don't even think it was scared. It was just hoping to be saved.
I lifted the kitten out of the box. It was so small that my hands nearly swallowed it. We found out later it was eight weeks old, but it looked like it was barely eight days old. It was so thin I could see every rib. I could feel its heart beating, its lungs pumping. The poor kitten was so weak it could barely hold up its head, and it was shaking uncontrollably. It opened its mouth, but the sound was weak and ragged.
And the cold! That's what I remember most, because I couldn't believe a living animal could be so cold. It felt like there was no warmth at all. So I cradled the kitten in my arms to share my heat. It didn't fight. Instead, it snuggled into my chest and laid its head against my heart.
"Oh, my," said Jean.
"The poor baby," I said, squeezing tighter.
Neither of us said anything for a while. We were just staring at the kitten.
Finally Jean broke the silence. "How do you think it got in there?"
I wasn't thinking about last night. I was only thinking about right now. It was too early to call the veterinarian, who wouldn't be in for an hour. But the kitten was so cold. Even in the warmth of my arms, I could feel it shaking.
"We've got to do something," I said.
Jean grabbed a towel, and we wrapped the little fellow up until only its pink nose was sticking out. Its huge beautiful eyes were staring from the shadows.
"Let's give it a warm bath," I said. "Maybe that will stop the shivering."
I filled the staff room sink with warm water, testing it with my elbow as I clutched the kitten in my arms. It slid into the sink like a block of ice. Jean found some shampoo in the art closet, and I rubbed the kitten slowly and lovingly. As the water turned grayer and grayer, the kitten's wild shivering turned to soft purring. I smiled. This kitten was tough. But it was so very young. When I finally lifted it out of the sink, it looked like a newborn: huge lidded eyes and big ears sticking out from a tiny head. Wet, scared, and meowing quietly for its mother.
We dried it with the blow-dryer we used for drying glue at craft time. Within thirty seconds, I was holding a beautiful, long-haired orange tabby. The kitten had been so filthy before, I had thought it was gray.
By this time there were four people in the staff room, each cooing over the kitten. Eight hands touched it, seemingly at once. The other three staffers talked over one another while I stood silently cradling the kitten like a baby and rocking back and forth.
"Where did it come from?"
"The drop box."
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
I glanced up. They were all looking at me. "A boy," I said.
"How old is he?"
"How did he get in the box?"
I wasn't listening. I only had eyes for the kitten.
"It's so cold."
"The coldest morning of the year."
A pause, then: "Someone must have put him in the box."
"Maybe they were trying to save him."
"I don't know. He's so… helpless."
"He's so young."
"He's so beautiful. Oh, he's breaking my heart."
I put him down on the table. The poor kitten could barely stand. The pads on all four of his paws were frostbitten, and over the next week they would turn white and peel off. And yet the kitten managed to do something truly amazing. He steadied himself on the table and slowly looked up into each face. Then he began to hobble. As each librarian reached to pet him, he rubbed his tiny head against her hand and purred. It was as if he wanted to personally thank every person he met for saving his life.
By now it had been twenty minutes since I had pulled the tiny kitten out of the box, and I'd had plenty of time to think through a few things—the once common practice of keeping library cats, my plan to make the library more friendly, the logistics of bowls and food and cat litter, the trusting expression on the kitten's face when he burrowed into my chest and looked up into my eyes. So I was more than prepared when someone finally asked, "What should we do with him?"
"Well," I said, as if the thought had just occurred to me, "maybe we can keep him."
It's a Boy!
The most amazing thing about the kitten was how happy he was that first day. Here he was in a new environment, surrounded by eager strangers who wanted nothing more than to squeeze him, cuddle him, and coo, and he was perfectly calm. No matter how many times we passed him from hand to hand, and no matter what position we held him in, he was never jumpy or fidgety. He never tried to bite or get away. Instead, he just relaxed into each person's arms and stared up into her eyes.
Can you imagine it, the tiniest ball of fluff in the world, no bigger than a juice box, staring up into your eyes with love? And then nuzzling you with his wet nose. And laying his head on your arm. And purring. No wonder we didn't want to put him down! All we wanted to do was grab him, hold him, and love him.
In fact, when I set him down at closing time that first night, I had to watch him for five minutes to make sure he could totter all the way to his food dish and litter box. If he was going to be a library cat, he had to learn to live in the library. If I took him home, even for one night, he might imprint on my home and never want to leave. So I had to leave him alone in the library that first night.
But he looked so tiny as he limped across that big library, like a little lopsided toy. And he looked like he was trying so hard. The poor guy. I don't think his frostbitten feet had touched the ground all day.
Still, I wasn't too worried about him. I'd taken him to the vet that morning, and he wasn't in any health danger. He was an alley cat, so he was used to being alone at night. And thanks to the librarians, he already had a box to sleep in and toys to play with.
One librarian, Doris Armstrong, had even brought him a warm pink blanket. We had all watched as she bent down and scratched the kitten under the chin, then folded the blanket and put it in his cardboard box. The kitten had stepped gingerly into the box, curled his legs underneath his body for warmth, and fallen asleep. And that's exactly where I found him the next morning, asleep on his warm pink blanket.
The next step was to share our little guy with the outside world. The library staff may have already accepted the kitten, but keeping him wasn't our decision. The Spencer Public Library was part of the city government, which meant it answered to the city council and the library board. But it also answered to the ten thousand people of Spencer, and they could be a pretty opinionated bunch. If we wanted to keep the kitten, we needed the library board to approve. But more than that, we needed the town to want him.
As a librarian, I know you can't just put any cute cat in a library. If he's not friendly, he's going to make enemies. If he's too shy or scared, nobody will stand up for him. If he's not patient, he's going to bite. If he's too rambunctious, he's going to make a mess.
I had no doubt about our boy. From the moment he looked up into my eyes, so calm and content, I knew he was perfect for the library. There wasn't a flutter in his heart as I held him in my arms; there wasn't a moment of panic in his eyes. He trusted me completely. He trusted everyone. That's what made him so special: his complete and unabashed trust. And because of it, I trusted him, too.
But that doesn't mean I wasn't a little apprehensive when I motioned Mary Huston, the town historian, into the staff area of the library. This was it: his first introduction to the public. As I took the kitten in my arms, I must admit that I felt a flutter in my heart. When the kitten had looked into my eyes, something had happened; we had made a connection. He was more than just a cat to me. It had only been a day, but already I couldn't stand the thought of being without him. What if Mary didn't like him?
"Why hello," Mary said with a smile when she saw the tiny kitten in my hands. She reached out to pet him on the top of the head—and he stretched out to sniff her hand!
"Oh, my," Mary said. "He's handsome."
Handsome. There was no other way to describe him. This was a handsome cat. His coat was a mix of vibrant orange and white with subtle darker stripes. It grew longer as he got older, but as a kitten it was thick and long only around his neck. A lot of cats have pointy noses, or their mouths jut out a bit too far, or they're a little lopsided, but this kitten's face was perfect. And his eyes, those huge golden eyes!
But it wasn't just his looks that made him beautiful; it was also his personality. If you cared at all about cats, you just had to hold him. There was something in his face—in the way he looked at you—that called out for love.
"He likes to be cradled," I said, gently sliding him into Mary's arms. "On his back. Like a baby."
"A one-pound baby."
"I don't think he even weighs that much."
The kitten shook his tail and nestled down into Mary's arms.
"Oh, Vicki," Mary said. "He's adorable. What's his name?"
A good question, since he didn't actually have a name. I'd started calling him Dewey, but that was only because I had to call him something. Since he wasn't my cat, I didn't have the right to name him. The patrons of the library would get to do that… if they wanted us to keep him.
"We're calling him Dewey," I told Mary, "but that's just a nickname for now."
"Hi, Dewey," Mary said. "Do you like the library?"
Dewey stared into Mary's face, then nuzzled her arm with his head.
Mary looked up with a smile. "I could hold him all day."
But, of course, she didn't. She put Dewey back into my arms, and I took him around the corner. The entire staff was waiting for us.
"That went well," I said. "One person down, 9,999 people to go."
Slowly, we started introducing Dewey to more regular visitors who loved cats. He was still weak, so we passed him directly into their arms. Marcie Muckey was instantly smitten. Mike Baehr and his wife, Peg, loved him. Pat Jones and Judy Johnson thought he was adorable. Actually there were four Judy Johnsons among the ten thousand people in Spencer. Two were regular library users, and both were Dewey fans.
A week later, Dewey's story ran on the front page of the Spencer Daily Reporter under the headline "Purr-fect Addition Made to Spencer Library." The article, which took up half the page, told the story of Dewey's miraculous rescue and was accompanied by a color photograph of a tiny orange kitten staring shyly but confidently into the camera from atop an old-fashioned pull-drawer card catalog.
For a week, Dewey had been a secret. If you didn't come into the library, you didn't know about him. Now everyone in town knew. Many people, especially children, loved the idea of having a cat in the library. Most people didn't give Dewey a second thought.
But there were some complainers. I was a little disappointed, I must admit, but not surprised. There is nothing on earth that someone won't complain about.
One woman took particular offense. She sent me a letter that was pure fire and brimstone. According to her, I was a madwoman who was not only threatening the health of every innocent child in town, but also destroying the values of the community. An animal! In a library! If we let that stand, what was to stop people from walking a cow down Grand Avenue? In fact, she threatened to show up in the library that very afternoon with her cow on a leash.
But you know what? I looked up her name in our files. She'd never checked a book out from the library. Never. In fact, she didn't even have a library card!
But I did get some worried phone calls. "My child has allergies," one woman said. "What am I going to do? He loves the library."
I knew allergies would be the most common concern, so I was prepared. A year earlier, Muffin, the beloved cat-in-residence at the Putnam Valley Library in upstate New York, had been banished after a library board member developed a severe cat allergy. As a consequence, the library lost $80,000 in promised donations. I had no intention of letting my cat, or my library, go the way of Muffin.
Spencer was too small for an allergist, so I asked the advice of two general practice doctors. The Spencer Public Library, they noted, was a large, open space sectioned off by rows of four-foot-high shelves. The staff area was enclosed by a temporary wall, leaving six feet open to the ceiling. There were two door-size openings in that wall, and since neither had a door, they were always open. Even the staff area was an open space, with desks pushed back-to-back or separated by bookshelves.
Not only did this layout allow Dewey easy access to the safety of the staff area, but the doctors assured me it would also prevent the buildup of dander and hair. The library, apparently, was perfectly designed to prevent allergies. If anyone on staff had been allergic it might have been a problem, but a few hours of exposure every couple of days? The doctors agreed there was nothing to worry about.
- On Sale
- Apr 12, 2011
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers