In Spencer, Iowa, population 11,300, public library director Vicki Myron says the most famous being to ever call Spencer home might be a cat named Dewey Readmore Books, who has appeared on radio and television as well as in magazines and newspapers.
His story began one morning in the cold of winter. On Jan. 18, 1988, Myron and an assistant heard a tiny sound coming from the library's drop box, and there, buried beneath volumes of returned books, was a kitten.
"He was half-dead, and his foot pads were frozen," says Myron. "We gave him a bath to warm him up and found out he adored people. He wasn't afraid of strangers, so we decided to keep him."
He has reached such celebrity status that his picture appears on Spencer's library cards, and now there are even Dewey postcards, which have been requested from as far away as South Africa, Belgium and Holland. Sales of the cards have generated up to $100 a month for the library.
"He pretty much pays his own way," says Myron.
Dewey climbs ladders, rides on book carts, sleeps in boxes. In the early morning, he stands and raises a paw against a window as if to wave hello to Myron as she approaches the building.
When those who are uncomfortable around cats use the library, Dewey waits it out in Myron's office.
He's very sociable, sitting in on meetings in the conference room, greeting people at the front door and moving from lap to lap. There are a couple of exceptions. If Dewey hears the words "brush" or "bath," he runs and hides. If he sees James Esterly, the local veterinarian, entering the library, he similarly makes a break for it.
He is especially kind to children with special needs, Myron says. He seems to understand them. "There's one little girl who can't speak and rarely smiles, but when she sees Dewey, she absolutely beams."
Dewey is not inclined to pursue mice, and no such expectations are placed upon him. "If a mouse ever came in here," Myron says, "Dewey wouldn't know what to do with it."
Unlike Dewey, Alis' fame was limited to her small world. In Silverado Canyon, pets are known by name and reputation. The most visible are the dogs, among them Kelsey and Bailey, who hang out at the Silverado Canyon Market next to the library. Bailey's brother, Buddy, hangs out at the Shady Brook Market, located up the canyon a bit. Then there's Megs, Jake and Jesse. Odie now lives in Florida, Shelby doesn't get out much anymore.
There was a dog named Lacey, best known for her ability to smile on command. Whenever a book ordered by Lacey's owner would arrive at the library, Cruz would write a note, fasten it to Lacey's collar, and thus provide notification.
There used to be a couple of ne'er-do-wells, pit bulls, who one Saturday in 1998 sneaked around to the back of the library and came in through the backdoor. Cruz heard a commotion and found the dogs savaging Alis. Cruz ran out front to get help. A man came in and fought the dogs off with his fists.
Alis was rushed to a clinic, where she underwent surgery. A portion of her intestines was removed. She also suffered a broken breastbone and numerous lacerations.
Folks from the canyon went in shifts to sit with Alis as she recovered. Judi Davis, owner of the Silverado Canyon Market, set out the Yuban coffee can she uses for donations whenever a local animal gets run over or otherwise requires medical attention.
Current and past library patrons and employees sent money with their get-well cards. In all, checks, bills and loose change totaled about $1,400, enough for the veterinary clinic to call it even.
Some people say Alis was never the same after the attack. She used to love to go out behind the library next to the creek and lie in the morning sun, but these last few years, she wouldn't go outside unless someone went with her, Cruz says. She became less patient with young children, had difficulty reaching the top shelves.
There were two services when Alis died. Davis at the market planted a peach tree behind the store in Alis' memory. It has been difficult, says Cruz, who has worked at the library since 1979, to open the door and have no one there to welcome her. During quiet moments now, when no one is around, there is only silence, and it feels a bit empty.
"It's too early," says Cruz at the prospect of another cat. "We don't want people dropping off cats at our frontdoor. When the time is right and the right cat comes along, maybe then, but not now."