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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dewey the Cat

I started reading Dewey: The Small-town Cat Who Touched the World yesterday. It’s about a kitten who survives a bitterly cold winter night after somebody shoves him in a library book return slot in Spencer, Iowa and then goes on to become the library cat—touching everybody he comes into contact with during difficult times.

The book opens in the late 80s with the farm crisis when nearly everybody in Spencer was affected by it. People were coming to the library to look for a new job on the library’s fancy new computer, or to pick up a book to help them with job skills, or to learn how to put together a new resume.

Early on in the book, when Dewey (who was named Melville Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System that libraries use) was still recovering from frostbitten feet, librarian Vicki Myron makes this observation about him:

All I knew was that, from the moment we found him, Dewey believed everything was going to be fine. And when he was around, he made others believe that too. It took him ten days to get healthy enough to explore the library on his own, and once he did it was clear he had no interest in books, shelves, and other inanimate objects. His interest was people. If there was a patron in the library, he’d walk straight up to him—still slow on his sore feet but no longer hobbling—and jump into his lap. More often than not he was pushed away, but rejection never deterred him. Dewey kept jumping, kept looking for laps to lie in and hands to pet him, and things started to change.

Dewey was still a young kitten at this point of the story, but his focus on people rather than objects made him wise beyond his age. I get frustrated with myself sometimes when I realize that I am putting my schedule or work or other things ahead of people. Of course, I’m not free to roam around all day like Dewey did, void of responsibility, but putting people first should be a priority.

I’m also moved by the way Dewey never let rejection deter him. He kept looking for new opportunities with people and he kept jumping in people’s laps and eventually things started to change. Myron goes on to talk about how things changed. When the older patrons started paying attention to Dewey, they started coming to the library more often and they stayed longer. Some of them even dressed better. But something bigger than all of that happened—they began to build a relationship with the staff of the library.

One man who was out of work finally gave in and allowed Dewey to sit in his lap and it brought a smile to the man’s face. Dewey didn’t solve the man’s problems, but he eased his pain for moment.

I think all of us could learn a lesson or two from Dewey’s life. In fact, we could go one step further and be a Dewey for someone in need.


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