The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

February 18, 2013

Furry friends add charm to local library

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — Dewey the Library Cat was a star. His story, told by Iowa librarian Vicki Myron, was on The New York Times best-seller list and earned him fame across the nation and around the world. Myron's book, "Dewey's Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions," released in 2010, also has a solid following.

But the story of Thomas and Kitty is every bit as good, maintains Baxter Springs librarian Betty Burrows, who heads up Johnston Public Library.

"Thomas was famous in our town," Burrows said. "He was the rock star of library cats."

Born on Aug. 10, 1990, he started off life as a house cat. After his mistress's death, he was taken to a local, privately owned cat shelter. Burrows, who adopted two cats from the shelter for her own home, met Thomas there.

"I watched him all summer. He had no claws, and he couldn't fight back when the other tougher cats got after him," she said. "I didn't think he'd last the winter."

Burrows recalls deciding one day, "OK, we're going to have a library cat."

Library's first cat

Cats in libraries are not a new idea. Historical records show that libraries in ancient Egypt, where cats were worshipped, made the animals welcome. There was an "army" of cats -- presumably to keep down rodents -- in Russia's Hermitage Museum.

The website Iron Frog Productions, which maintains a database of library cats around the world, says there are currently 236 library cats in the U.S. In Kansas, one of the state's earliest known library cats was documented in 1938 in Topeka: Mrs. Cat lived in the library where her kittens were born, but their names are unknown.

Also in the database: A cat named Libby, who lived at the Girard Public Library from 1996 to 2001, and a cat named Lucky, who has been living at the Pretty Prairie Library since 2008.

So, Burrows approached the Johnston Public Library's other employees -- all cat lovers -- about taking in Thomas, and they agreed. In November 1992, he was officially adopted by the library, and donations from patrons and a percentage of sales from library gift items and used books began providing his care.

Meanwhile, Thomas earned his keep by writing a column for the local newspaper and agreeing to share his story with attendees at a state library workshop about library cats. He signed autographs after being featured in "The Library Cat Newsletter" and the "National Examiner," Burrows said, and generally led a cushy life among the stacks of books.

Thomas also liked to take strolls through the surrounding neighborhood, and on one such outing he met Kitty, a privately owned feline who lived nearby. Thomas and Kitty became friends, and he continued to visit her.

But at age 13, Thomas' health began to decline, and Burrows decided he'd have to stay inside for the remainder of his days. Each of those days, Kitty came up the steps to the library door and just sat, looking in at Thomas through the glass as he looked out at her.

"We started feeding her, and one afternoon it got really cold, so we let her in," Burrows said. "She'd spend day after day here, then went home at night."

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