After Nineteen Years of Service and Companionship, Ingrates at Iowa Library Murder Dewey Readmore Books
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
-- Dylan Thomas
During the nineteen years that he roamed the aisles and stacks of the public library in Spencer, Iowa Dewey Readmore Books (See photos above and below) wore many hats. He was by turns a goodwill ambassador, chief fundraiser, and head mouser.
Found in a book drop with frozen paws on a sub-zero January morning in 1988, Dewey soon became world famous. He was featured in a video about library cats entitled Puss in Books: Adventures of the Library Cat and a television crew once traveled all the way from Japan to his tiny hometown in northern Iowa in order to do a special about him.
Stories were written about him in Cat Fancy Magazine and people regularly wrote to him from as far away as England, Canada, South Africa, Belgium, and France. Vacationers even went so far as to rearrange their itineraries just so that they could visit Spencer and be photographed with him. For regular patrons of the library he soon became a dear old friend while for first-time visitors we was always a pleasant surprise.
Named appropriately enough after a popular library cataloging system, Dewey and the library were a good fit from the outset. "From day one, we felt he'd be the right personality for the public," Vicki Myron (See photo above) recalled for the Sioux City Journal on December 1st. (See "Spencer's Famous Library Cat Dies.") "He's always loved people and meetings."
All the love and mingling with the public came to an abrupt end on November 29th when Myron took him to the vet and had him killed. Suffering from both a hyperthyroid condition and stomach cancer, he weighed only five pounds at the time of his death. According to staffer Kim Peterson, the decision to kill him was made because he was "acting funny, trying to hide."
It is conceivable that he realized that his time on this earth was about up and simply preferred to meet the Grim Reaper in private; on the other hand, he may have been only playing hide and seek with the staff. Press reports do not indicate that he was in any obvious discomfort.
Euthanasia, as this horrible practice is politely known, is nothing more than a fancy name for murder. Cats live very short lives and their sojourns on this earth should never be shortened by man, even if they are in obvious pain.
Suffering is an integral part of life for all animals, man included. Besides as Lucretius astutely pointed out in the De rerum natura, small pains are bearable whereas severe pain soon leads to death.
What Dylan Thomas once said about human mortality applies likewise to cats and all other animals: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Practitioners of pet euthanasia usually attempt to justify their conduct by arguing that they cannot bear to see an animal suffer. These assertions sound hollow, however. (See Cat Defender posts of February 9, 2006 and September 2, 2005 entitled, respectively, "Newspaper Cat Named Tripod is Killed Off by Journalists He Befriended in Vermont" and "Ginny, a Dog Who Rescued Cats, Is Killed Off by Her Owner on Long Island.")
Being too cheap to provide proper veterinary care and too lazy to attend to an ailing pet, euthanasia advocates decide to cut their losses and take the convenient way out. For people who think and behave like that, cats and dogs do not have any intrinsic value outside of whatever service or pleasure they provide. Consequently, years of faithful companionship are rewarded with a jab of sodium pentobarbital to the heart.
Serious questions also have been raised concerning the quality of the care that Dewey received from the library. For instance, the Sioux City Journal states that his caregivers fed him a steady diet of scrambled eggs, roast beef from Arby's, plain cheeseburgers, tuna sandwiches, boiled ham, and garlic TV dinners.
Since it is generally conceded by most health experts that such a diet would be harmful even to humans, it is hard to imagine how it could have been beneficial to Dewey; in fact, it could have been responsible for both his stomach cancer and thyroid condition. An occasional table scrap will not harm a cat, but it is far preferable that they are fed specially prepared meals since even most commercial cat food is pure garbage.
Of additional concern was the large amount of time that this very sociable cat was forced to spend alone at the library. Writing in a November newsletter produced by the library, Myron defended her actions by arguing, "Some folks think that he should retire and come to my house to live out his days in quiet. But that would be worse than prison for him. He hates being alone and can't stand the days we are closed. He still insists on going to meetings and events even if there are two-hundred people milling around."
That is, quite obviously, double talk. Since the library is only open at the maximum sixty-four hours a week (fewer when there are holidays and weather-related closings), Myron spends considerably more time at home than she does at work. Dewey could have stayed home during the day with her family or he could have commuted to work with her. Since she was unwilling to consider either of those options, she could at least have acquired a second cat to have kept him company when the library was closed.
The library was also wrong to have had Dewey sterilized and declawed. Since he was kept indoors, there was not any need to have had him neutered and declawing is not only extremely painful but inhumane as well. (See Cat Defender post of June 19, 2006 entitled "Irresponsible Cat Owner Allows Declawed Tomcat Named Jack to Tangle with Black Bear in Northern New Jersey.")
Considering all the free publicity that he generated for the library and the thousands of dollars that his notoriety brought in, Dewey deserved far better treatment. A healthier diet and more companionship would have greatly added to both the quality and length of his life, but above all he deserved to be allowed to finish out his life on his own terms.
Even in death the library continues to use him as a cash cow. Apparently too cheap to give him a proper burial and a tombstone, it is considering having him cremated and scattering his ashes on the library's grounds. Also, postcards (See photo below) bearing his image are still being hawked at the library and on its website for the exorbitant price of $1.50 each.
All of this is terribly wrong. Cats, dogs, and other animals should be valued for their intrinsic worth as sentient beings. Most people, however, are totally incapable of looking upon either the animals, Mother Earth, or even their fellow human beings as anything other than objects of exploitation.
It is therefore not surprising that once they have gotten all that they can get out of a cat or some other animal that they kill it. Despite all the pretenses, man is little more than an exploiter and an exterminator.
The library should nonetheless be commended for rescuing Dewey and giving him a place to live. According to its website, two-hundred-fifty-eight cats are currently living in libraries around the world. Not surprisingly, one-hundred-ninety of them are living in the United States with the bulk of the remainder scattered in English-speaking countries such as England, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.
More public institutions and private businesses should adopt cats and dogs because in doing so they will not only be saving lives but enhancing their own well-being and happiness in the process. They should not, however, be permitted to sterilize and declaw cats. Moreover, they should be required to feed them a healthy diet and not to leave them alone on days when closed.
Since it is reportedly looking for a replacement for Dewey, it is vital that these prohibitions be enforced against the Spencer Library. Exploitation is no less onerous when its perpetrators are members of the intelligentsia.
Photos: Tim Gallagher of the Associated Press (Vicki Myron and Dewey) and Spencer Library (Dewey in chair, resting in bed, and postcard.)