Penny of Swansea Public Library: A Remembrance
|Penny Holds Court at the Library|
"There's no more kitty? Is she going to come back?"
-- Nolan Laroche, age four
It is nothing short of heartbreaking every time that a cat dies. That is attributable not only to the enormous amount of irreplaceable beauty, grace, elegance, and love that they take with them to their graves but also because of the loss of the myriad of benefits that they so freely bestow upon this world while simultaneously asking so little in return.
They also live such terribly short lives. In that respect they are much like the dew which arrives unnoticed overnight only to evaporate with the arrival of the morning sun. They accordingly are here one moment and gone the next.
Underappreciated, unknown, and unloved is their cruel fate. Most individuals live anywhere from ten to twenty times longer than the average cat but just as there is little correlation between longevity and the quality of life, there also exists a profound qualitative difference between the species that Leonardo da Vinci crowned as "nature's masterpiece" and the one that Mark Twain once derided as the "lowest animal."
So, too, was it with a lovely and sedate tortoiseshell with green eyes named Penny who for more than a decade charmed and brightened the days of staffers and patrons alike at the Swansea Public Library. Adopted from a shelter in 2003, she served as, inter alia, the facility's unpaid mascot, goodwill ambassador, and resident mouser.
In reality, however, she was far more than any of that in that over time she became a trusted and reliable friend to all those who had the rare and distinct privilege of getting to know her. "She's a fixture around her," head honcho Cynthia St. Amour told WCVB-TV of Boston on March 27, 2013. (See "Man Says Beloved Library Cat Violates Federal Disabilities Law.") "The first thing people say when they walk in the door is (to) ask 'where's Penny?'"
Circulation librarian Marie Shea wholeheartedly concurred with her boss's assessment. "Not every cat can be a good library cat. She's calm and mellow," she averred to WCVB-TV. "Penny is a joy to the staff and a joy to the patrons and makes the library a special place."
When she was not on the receiving end of treats and friendly pats on the head from her loyal subjects, she usually could be found holding court at the front desk much like Cleopatra was said to have done on her barge. At other times when she wanted a few moments to herself, she would retire to either her straw basket, a window perch, or the stacks in order to grab a bit of well-deserved kip.
For the most part, however, she lived in obscurity and was little known outside of the tiny town of sixteen-thousand souls that is situated six kilometers west of Fall River and seventy-six kilometers south of Boston. All of that changed and definitely not for the better in early 2013 when local troublemaker and rabble-rouser Patrick Higgins launched a campaign to have her unceremoniously evicted from the premises.
|Ex-Jailbird Patrick Higgins and His Bay Window|
"I must again demand that Penny the 'house cat' for the Swansea Library disappear since there are many people who are allergic to cats who cannot use the library (sic) facilities due to their allergies, in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)," he protested in a March 24th e-mail letter sent to St. Amour and other bigwigs of the town. For her part, St. Amour countered by arguing that the library never had received so much as a solitary complaint about Penny.
Reprehensibly, that pretty much was all the moxie that she was able to muster on behalf of the library's loyal resident feline. Instead, she chose to cave in to Higgins' bluster by throwing Penny underneath the bus. "We'll be looking at adoption possibilities in the future," she vowed to WCVB-TV.
While the utterly spineless St. Amour was busily greasing the skids for Penny's ouster, other stouter souls at the library courageously rose to her defense. For example, a petition that they started quickly garnered more than four-hundred signatures by April 1st.
Perhaps most impressive of all, the effort to save Penny was by no means limited to current denizens of the town. For instance, former resident Aubrey Laflamme started a petition drive at www.change.com that soon attracted two-thousand-one-hundred-forty-four supporters plus an additional four-hundred "likes" on her Facebook page.
Last but not least, an online poll conducted by The Herald News of Fall River elicited twelve-hundred-eighty responses of which eighty-seven per cent were in favor of allowing her to remain at the library. Although the outpouring of support sans doute greatly strengthened Penny's case, it alone was not decisive.
That is due principally to the fact that keeping cats at public facilities is problematic at best. For example, some postal facilities in both the United States and England have ordered their evictions. (See Cat Defender posts of February 11, 2009 and November 18, 2013 entitled, respectively, "The United States Postal Service Knuckles Under to the Threats and Lies of a Cat-Hater and Gives Sammy the Boot" and "Cast Out and Set Adrift Upon a Sea of Unremitting Misery and Uncertainty by the Disgracefully Ailurophobic Royal Mail, The Cat at Long Last, Hopefully, Has Found a Safe Harbor.")
Moreover, the reach of the long arm of the law is by no means limited to purely public facilities but rather its slimy tentacles often snake their way into private establishments in order to have cats either completely removed or, at the very least, to dictate the terms of their tenancy. For instance, the federal courts recently have upheld a series of totally absurd and draconian restrictions placed upon the world famous polydactyls that reside at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum by the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. (See Cat Defender post of January 24, 2013 entitled "The Feds Now Have Cats and Their Owners Exactly Where They Want Them Thanks to an Outrageous Court Ruling Targeting the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West.")
|Penny Knew the Best Non-Nefarious Use for a Computer|
Lodging houses that dare to so much as serve food also have felt the paralyzing sting of governmental flatheads who hate cats. (See Cat Defender posts of May 21, 2007 and December 5, 2011 entitled, respectively, "Salem, Massachusetts, Is Going After Cats Again Much Like It Did During the 1692 Witch Trials" and "The Algonquin Cruelly Responds to Threats Made by New York City by Trussing Up Matilda III and Bombarding Her with Shock Therapy.")
It is, however, those cats that reside at restaurants and bars who most frequently feel the wrath of ambitious bureaucrats who are on the prowl for an easy way to advance their moribund careers. (See Cat Defender posts of April 20, 2006, October 23, 2008, and February 17, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Molly Is Rescued After Spending Two Weeks Trapped Inside the Walls of an English Deli in Greenwich Village," "The Pecksniffian Management at a Swindon Pub Plies Ember with Food and Then Gives Her the Bum's Rush," and "The Health Department Banishes Smallcat from a Popular Carson City Restaurant but Her Feisty Owner Is Putting Up Quite a Fight."
Contrary to Higgins' wild-eyed assertion, the ADA does not prohibit cats and other animals from either entering or residing in public buildings and allergies are covered under the statute only if they are "severe enough to substantially limit a major life activity," Dena W. Iverson of the Justice Department in Washington told The Herald News on April 1, 2013. (See "At Swansea Library: Penny Would Like It Back to Normal.") "All public buildings are required to make reasonable modifications for those allergies, such as temporarily removing the allergen or installing an air filter."
Belatedly realizing that he had picked the wrong fight this time around, Higgins changed his tactics in a last-ditch effort to salvage whatever he could out of this imbroglio. Specifically, he dropped his demand that Penny immediately be given the bum's rush and instead proposed that the library post warning signs alerting the public to her presence. He additionally called for the Board of Health to intervene and to determine if her presence constituted a health hazard and for the library to agree not to replace her once she had died.
Judgment day arrived on April 3rd when the Board of Library Trustees met and gave Higgins, not Penny, the boot. "All you have here is a complaint," town attorney Arthur Frank told The Herald News on that date. (See "Swansea Public Library Board Says Penny Is Staying Put.") "It's not a properly filed complaint."
In doing so, he also had some choice words of his own for Higgins. "Basically, he wants you (the board) to make her disappear. It's an ultimatum. He's saying do this or I'll file," he told The Herald News. "If you want to deal with the devil, you can deal with the devil."
He did, however, suggest to the trustees that if an individual who actually was allergic to Penny complained they should take reasonable measures in order to accommodate that person, such as installing an air filter, dusting the furniture more frequently, and relocating the litter box. It has not been revealed if such a request ever was made and, if so, what the library did about it.
As best it could be determined, Higgins never followed through with his threat to file a formal complaint against Penny with the Justice Department. Even if he had been willing to have gone to that length, he would have faced a formidable opponent in the law firm of Killoran and Killoran of Fall River which had magnanimously pledged to represent Penny pro bono.
|Not Much Ever Escaped Penny's Watchful Eyes|
The packed meeting room burst into spontaneous applause once the brave trustees had decided in Penny's favor. "I think Penny is a great addition to the town library," area resident Linda Barlow told The Herald News on April 3rd. "She's an angel."
Margaret Soroka of Somerset, eight kilometers west of Swansea, could not have agreed more. "I've been at the library," she told The Herald News. "That cat is the sweetest."
City resident Chris Amaral also was pleased with the trustees' decision but expressed concern that they had not taken a stand on the library's keeping of other cats in the future. As events eventually unfolded, her trepidations turned out to be prophetic.
It was left of Bill Kinnane of Somerset, however, to point out Higgins' blatant hypocrisy. "I think considering the source...I don't know how he can point a finger when he has spent time in a Pennsylvania prison."
By that he was referring to Higgins' felony convictions in 2010 and 2011 for telling whoppers in order to fraudulently collect unemployment insurance while simultaneously flipping them at Burger King.® He later compounded those offenses by refusing to make restitution and as a result was jailed in Chester in October of 2012.
In addition to those infractions as well as filing a number of frivolous lawsuits under both the ADA and open meeting statutes, he somehow managed to get himself elected as chairman of the local Recreation Commission which during his tenure voted to ban autistic children from participating in its summer programs. He apparently therefore has as little regard for retarded children as he does for cats. That decision later was overturned and he no longer serves on the board.
"Penny is here and I think this is where she's going to stay," Carol Gafford of the library's children's section earlier predicted to The Herald News in the April 1st article cited supra. "She runs this library. We Take care of her."
As things turned out, Gafford's prediction was short-lived because a little more than eleven months later on March 8, 2014 Penny was dead. According to Shea, she recently not only had lost weight but had stopped venturing upstairs as well.
It is not known what, if any, impact Higgins' offensive had on her health. Although she may not have been able to fully comprehend the minute details of what was going on, it nonetheless is possible that she intrinsically sensed the peril that she was in and the resulting anxieties could have had an adverse affect on her health.
All that Shea and her cohorts have been willing to publicly divulge is that the either sixteen or seventeen year old female was taken to an unidentified veterinarian where she died before being examined. Most likely, that is the library's clumsy and dishonest way to attempting to hide the fact that it deliberately had her killed.
That is precisely what the North Hertfordshire Branch of Cats Protection did to an eleven-year-old tom named Alfie that it had rescued from the streets of Stevenage in late September of last year. After publicly pledging to treat him, the charity delivered him up to the knackers at the Great Ashby Veterinary Hospital who promptly dispatched him to the devil.
As was the case with Penny, they apparently did not even bother to examine him because the charity's Bianca Kubler later claimed that he "most probably" had bone cancer. Quite obviously, diagnostic tests, if they had been performed, would have quickly determined whether or not he had the disease. (See Cat Defender post of February 17, 2016 entitled "Cats Protection Races to Alfie's Side after His Owner Dies and He Winds Up on the Street, Swears It Is Going to Help Him, and then Turns Around and Has Him Whacked.")
Even though practitioners of veterinary medicine should respect all animal life and use their considerable skills only to save lives, that is seldom the case. It therefore is not surprising that not too many cats ever make it out of their surgeries alive and that in turn makes them every bit as lethal to members of the species as shelters.
"We'd been buying her special foods to tempt her (to eat)," Shea told The Herald News on March 10, 2014. (See "Penny, Beloved Swansea Library Cat, Passes Away.") "Patrons were sitting with her and petting her."
That was all well and good as far as it went but what Penny needed was prompt and competent veterinary care and not a lethal jab of sodium pentobarbital. Nevertheless, all indications are that is precisely what she got as is evinced by Shea's utterly revolting penchant for wallowing in the same well-rehearsed sottise that all cat killers find so attractive.
"It's good that she's not suffering," she mindlessly gassed to The Herald News on March 10th. "It's so sad without her."
Whether Penny died of natural causes or was bumped off, there can be little doubt that her demise eliminated a major legal headache for the library. It is even conceivable that over time thoughts of malice aforethought had wormed their way into St. Amour's twisted gourd where they eventually became practically indistinguishable from the list of "adoption possibilities" that she earlier had compiled.
If there is so much as a shred of truth in that analysis of events, it gives a rather hollow ring to the staffers' eulogies. "She was everyone's cat," Kaija Gallucci of technical services told The Herald News. "It'll be a different sort of (grieving) process."
Even Gafford could not write her off fast enough. "I think she made the library a little special," she told The Herald News. "She had a great life."
|Nolan Laroche Holds Up a Framed Photograph of Penny|
Four-year-old Nolan Laroche, however, was not quite so easily bamboozled by the grown-ups' self-serving, hypocritical baloney. "There's no more kitty?" he plaintively asked his grandmother, Diane, according to the March 10th edition of The Herald News. "Is she going to come back?"
Apparently many of his contemporaries felt the same way. "A day does not go by that a child doesn't come in and ask for Penny," Gafford acknowledged to The Herald News on that same date.
In a hellfire hurry in order to get rid of her as quickly as possible, the library had Penny's corpse immediately burned but it is not known what was done with her ashes. They supposedly were interred in a garden at the library but that seems rather unlikely. Every bit as shameful, staffers were far too callous and uncaring to even hold a memorial service in her honor.
A rather cheap and puny grave marker that was paid for by the Ryan Kelly Memorial Fund, which was established in honor of Shea's son who died on February 5, 2011, was laid in the garden in early June of 2014. It consists of a stone, flowers, and a photograph of her. The inscription reads: "Penny, Beloved Library Cat, Your Paw Prints Are Forever On Our Hearts." (See The Herald News, June 5, 2014, "Remembering Penny.")
Penny's beautiful face still adorns the library's web site but conspicuously missing are any testimonials, eulogies, or even remembrances of her. It thus would seem that the library is determined to erase as far as it is humanly possible the petit fait that she even once graced its corridors.
Equally disturbing, it looks as if she is destined to be the last of her line in that the library apparently has not found a replacement for her. So, in a roundabout way, Higgins has prevailed just as Amaral earlier had feared.
"I've lived here all my life and I can't remember a time when the library didn't have a cat," local resident Luna Leal recalled to WCVB-TV in the March 27, 2013 article cited supra. "Penny is a breath of fresh air. She's very therapeutic."
That certainly is true enough in that the library has had a resident feline ever since 1986. The first one was a cat named Dewey who was followed by a black female named Spooky who died at the age of nineteen on July 31, 2004. A painting of her reportedly still hangs in the library.
In addition to the disturbing possibility that the library may have had her intentionally killed, its treatment of her while she was alive left much to be desired. First of all, according to its web site the library is only open a minuscule fifty-three hours a week and that in turn meant that Penny was left to her own devices for the remaining one-hundred-fifteen hours of the week.
|The Library's Rather Insignificant Memorial to Penny|
Staffers could have taken her home with them on nights, weekends, and holidays but apparently none of them cared even that much about her comfort and well-being. At first glance, leaving her all alone for so much of the time seems to have been cruel but on the other hand the time that they spent with her actually was far greater than that which many owners devote to their cats. That is especially the case with those who work days and then like to paint the town once the sun descends over the horizon.
Besides, it is always conceivable that Penny may have enjoyed having the library to herself. That is especially the case now that most such institutions have been taken over by loud, obnoxious, and mannerless bums who use them only to file online applications for welfare and other governmental freebies, play video games, watch pornography, trash the toilets, sleep and, above all, gas nonstop on their mobile telephones.
Trumping all of that, staffers now believe that it is their primary responsibility to cater to the whims of these barbarians at the expense of the literate and civilized public. Although it is not known what conditions are like at the Swansea Public Library, if it makes a habit out of indulging any of those social parasites it hardly could have been a fitting home for a cat as delicate and refined as Penny.
Additionally, it is a foregone conclusion that she had been sterilized and possibly even cruelly declawed as well. The library also denied her all access to both the great outdoors and the companionship of her fellow felines. To put the matter succinctly, staffers stole from her whatever life she previously had enjoyed and substituted in its place an artificial existence of their own making which made it doubly easy for them to exploit, manipulate and, ultimately, dispose of her once doing so suited their purposes.
The world famous Dewey Readmore Books of the Spencer Public Library was subjected to an almost identical set of deprivations before he met with the same cruel fate on November 29, 2006. (See Cat Defender posts of December 7, 2006 and May 10, 2007 entitled, respectively, "After Nineteen Years of Service and Companionship, Ingrates at Iowa Library Murder Dewey Readmore Books" and "Iowa Librarian Vicki Myron Inks Million Dollar Deal for Memoir About Dewey Readmore Books.")
There are estimated to be close to two-hundred cats living at libraries all across the United States with another fifty to sixty of them residing in such facilities in England, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. In a grotesquely imperfect world, library cats on the average do not fare all that poorly.
Yet, the arrangement nevertheless is far from ideal. Cats needs their own homes and loving owners. They also need to have at least some access to the outside world and the fellowship of their fellow felines. Plus, they need to be protected against such barbaric practices as declawing and to be provided with top-notch veterinary care whenever they require it.
Above all, their right to live should be respected by one and all to the very end and that was not apparently a consideration that Penny received from the Swansea Public Library. It therefore is impossible to view her passing with anything other than a mixture of profound sadness and outrage. Truman Capote once described life as a "moderately good play with a badly written third act" and in that regard there can be no denying that Penny deserved a far lengthier and more compassionate dénouement than she received.
So, in the end the answer to Nolan's poignant question can only be no. Penny will not be coming back. She and all cats accordingly should be loved and treasured while they are here with no less verve than a wino has for his bottle because once they are gone it is way too late in order to make amends for past omissions.
It is not much in the way of compensation for the loss of such a wonderful cat but Penny always will be remembered as the one who stood up an ailurophobe and, at least for one bright and shining moment, came out victorious. That is at least something to cling to on this solemn occasion, the second anniversary of her death. Sadly, it is doubtful that anyone connected to the Swansea Public Library is even aware of that, let alone willing to so much as pause for a moment today in order to remember her; cat killers, after all, do not like to be reminded of their despicable crimes.
Photos: Facebook (Penny on top of some books), Swansea Public Library (Penny at the computer and reclining on a table, and Spooky), The Herald News (Higgins), and Deborah Allard of The Herald News (Laroche and the memorial).