Cat librarian was one for the books

Celebration of tabby cat’s life set for Sunday

The family found him on a farm.

He wasn’t the only kitten wandering around the barn but he was the most outgoing.

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He liked the other kittens, Jocelyn Singh recalls. He liked the farm dog. He was even friends with a donkey, following the beast of burden as he tromped across the Abbotsford farm.

He was exactly what Singh, her husband and three young daughters were looking for, she remembers.

The cat, subsequently named Bilbo, seemed remarkable. But then, most cats seem remarkable to their owners. T.S. Eliot once wrote to his godson, explaining: “I am glad you have a Cat, but I do not believe it is So remarkable a cat as My Cat.”

And Bilbo might have remained a remarkable family cat if not for Singh’s idea to bring a bit of Commercial Drive to Central Lonsdale.

In 2014, Singh’s husband built a pocket library, a take-a-book, leave-a-book stand that works like a bird feeder for bookworms.

It was about “the idea of the community,” says Singh, noting her day job as a teacher librarian.

And as more people stopped by the house, dropping off Michelle Obama’s biography or perusing through a stack of books for children, Bilbo became a symbol of community.

“He always greeted people and he was just known as the neighbourhood cat,” she says.

Author and cat-appreciator Terry Pratchett once wrote that cats will, “amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw.”

But Bilbo was a bit more like a cat-dog, Singh recalls.

“His nickname was two-block walk,” she says.

Besides walks with the family, Bilbo used to shadow the mail carrier from doorstep to doorstep.

“He always liked people,” Singh says. “He was really outgoing.”

The family used to keep the front door open, and as Bilbo slipped in and out there always seemed to be a crowd of neighbours eager to pet the cat.

In June, Bilbo limped into the house. His stomach had been cut open.

At first, Singh thought he might have been hit by a car or attacked by raccoons.

The family took him to three different veterinarians who each suspected Bilbo was mauled by a big dog.

Given the extent of his injuries, there was no way to give Bilbo a life that wouldn’t have meant constant pain. The family made the decision to put him down.

They used to let Bilbo play with the neighbour’s large sheepadoodle dog. Remembering that, Singh can’t help but blame herself.

“Bilbo wasn’t afraid of large animals,” she says. “That’s kind of our fault for making him so used to dogs.”

Singh’s three daughters were devastated.

Shortly after Bilbo’s death, the family took a trip. But before they left, they slotted an envelope into the little library, asking neighbours to offer information about what happened to Bilbo or any memories of the cat.

When they got back, the library was bursting. They got letters, notes, cards, a book and a video link, Singh says.

“It was just overwhelming the impact that this little guy had . . . and how much he brought people together,” she says.

“How does a little cat . . .” she begins before trailing off.

One senior talked about taking walks by their house just to see Bilbo. His cat had passed away.

“So he would come and see Bilbo because it made him happy,” Singh says.

“Our mailman had tears in his eyes when he found out about Bilbo.”

The family knew people tended to be friendly with Bilbo, but they didn’t quite realize how many people agreed that their cat really was remarkable.

“We wouldn’t have known the impact he’s had on all these people had this not happened.”

The family is planning a celebration of life for Bilbo on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Her children are still hurting from the loss, but the outpouring from the community has soothed them as much as anything could, Singh says.

Just recently, she found her oldest daughter poring over the notes. It felt like a reaffirmation for her middle daughter.

“Everyone misses him, not just us,” she told her mother.


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