My library system had a strict “no library cats” policy, but Shadow Perlmutter didn’t know anything about that. And if he had, I’m sure he would have disregarded it.
Shadow made his own rules.
Shadow, who lived down the block from the Bala Cynwyd Library, would wait patiently outside our building until our automatic doors opened. Then he’d saunter in like he owned the place.
He’d sit on the counter beside the sink in the circulation office until one of us turned the faucet on, so he could enjoy a drink. He’d visit with the library director in her office. He’d tour the stacks. He’d keep us company at the circulation desk as we we checked books in and out.
Eventually, he would settle into a comfy chair in the corner of the quiet reading room to doze.
Shadow Perlmutter became a valued member of the library community. For our patrons, especially children, a trip to the library wasn’t complete without stopping by the quiet reading room to visit our unofficial Library Cat on “his” chair.
Occasionally, a patron would approach the circulation desk to exclaim, “There’s a cat in the library!”
“That’s Shadow Perlmutter,” we’d say. “He’s our feline patron.”
“Isn’t there a policy against cats in the library?” they’d ask.
Which meant that one of us would have to go get Shadow and carry him outside. Within a few hours, of course, he would make his way back in, which was fine with us.
Librarians are notorious cat lovers. We enjoyed having Shadow around. We liked visiting with him, and giving him head rubs and receiving a happy purr. We got a kick out of the fact that library closing procedure at the end of the day now included “putting the cat out.”
Then one day we realized that Shadow had stopped coming to the library. We phoned the Perlmutters, expecting the worst. Not to worry, we were told. Shadow was alive and well. But we wouldn’t be seeing him again.
The Perlmutters had moved to Mt. Airy.
I recently spoke with Jon Perlmutter, Shadow’s owner. He told me that when he lived in Bala Cynwyd, Shadow hadn’t just been our self-appointed library cat. He’d also befriended the students of the French School, and served as the unofficial mascot of the St. Joseph’s University track team, who would take him along on their neighborhood runs, passing him around like a baton.
Nor did the move to Mt. Airy shut down Shadow’s social life.
In his new neighborhood, Shadow would wait by the office window of the pastor of the local church, until the pastor’s secretary let him into the building, where he would visit with the staff, attend services, or relax in a nest of pillows in a cardboard box under the secretary’s desk.
When Shadow wasn’t at church, you could find him with the kids at the neighborhood preschool, or on the steps of the local co-op greeting shoppers.
When he returned home at the end of the day, Shadow couldn’t tell his family about his adventures. But they became aware of them through their neighbors, who knew the Perlmutters as “Shadow’s family” and filled them on on what their cat had been up to.
The Perlmutters knew their cat was popular. But they didn’t realize just how popular, until Shadow died and “his” church decided to hold a memorial service for him. The Summit Presbyterian Church didn’t normally hold memorial services for cats. But Shadow was special.
Over a hundred people showed up.
“I should be so lucky as to have a crowd like that turn up for me,” Perlmutter told me. “There were a lot of sad people in that church. Folks were really grieving.”
People from all walks of life, adults and children, stood up to share memories of how the cat had brightened their lives. Shadow wasn’t just the Perlmutter’s cat. He had belonged to an entire community.
“We’ve had beloved cats before,” Jon told me. “But they were just cats, not neighborhood celebrities.”
Everyone agreed that Shadow was a one-of-a-kind cat.
We never got another library cat. While our director, a cat lover, could welcome a “feline patron,” she would never actually acquire a library cat in defiance of the policy set by our library system. Still, we lived in hope that another cat might wander in the door one day and make the library their home.
But it never happened. There was only one Shadow Perlmutter.