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Los Robles' library cat offers comfort and reward
He may not be king of the jungle like his larger feline cousin, but Sir Eli is certainly king of the library at Los Robles Elementary School in Porterville. And from his lordly position, he welcomes all comers to sit, relax and enter a world of wonder through books.
“Kid’s today have a lot of stressors,” said Lissa Lambie, principal at Los Robles. “It’s great when he’s there and the kids can connect with Eli.”
The big-footed, big-hearted, registered Ragdoll cat belongs to the school’s long-time librarian, Marilyn Barsaleau. He makes an appearance about twice each week, resting royally among tales of knights and dragons or Egyptian pharaohs.
“Some kids come just to see him,” Barsaleau said. Staying on one’s best behavior can result in a trip to the library and a chance to pet the fluffy, blue-eyed Eli and listen to his enchanting purr. Of course, there are always a few students who press across the line of social graces and thereby lose such privilege.
“Some aren’t so nice and tease him,” Barsaleau admits.
But most children appreciate Sir Eli for who and what he is, and respond accordingly. He’s even helped sooth the wounded spirits of little ones waiting sick in the office for a ride home.
“He calms them down,” she said.
This is Barsaleau’s 13th year at Los Robles, but Eli’s first as the Library Cat. He arrived as a 4-month-old kitten in August with other fresh faces ready for the new school year. His breed is slow growing, Barsaleau said, and Ragdolls usually take three years to reach their full adult size. A full grown male can weigh as much as 25 pounds, and Eli’s ample paws predict that he may someday boast just such a size.
However, physical indicators in others seem to matter little to this docile feline, and children sense his acceptance of them, Barsaleau said.
“He never laughs at a crippled child,” she said. “He doesn’t care if these kids are poor. He loves them right where there are.”
Barsaleau became interested in the unusually named Ragdoll breed because of its easygoing nature and calm temperament. A cat-lover since her own childhood, she bought her first Ragdoll after her children grew up and moved out on their own. Soon she purchased a breeding pair, and today she travels extensively showing her prize animals at cat shows.
People from as far away as Washington, Texas and Arizona have kittens from Barsaleau’s litters. And two kittens will soon be joining new families in Paris, France.
Sir Eli stays much closer to home, prowling the aisles of children’s literature or visiting the elderly or ill, offering that same sense of calm acceptance.
Barsaleau, as handler, and Eli recently registered with the Delta Society’s local Paws 4 Healing program that provides animal visitors to hospitals, adult care facilities, hospice and other organizations. His demeanor, indicative in the name of the breed, makes Eli and his siblings perfect therapy cats.
“They know when people are hurting,” Barsaleau said.
Client responses vary. “They get big smiles,” she added. “Some don’t want you to leave.”
On the other hand, some students don’t want to leave the library. Lambie said Eli has a calming effect on children, as have many other animals that have visited the school over the years, so many that she has often referred to Los Robles as the critter school.
But Eli’s quiet, unconditional acceptance charms the children, and his presence in the library provides them with the chance to return the favor.
“It’s kind of healing,” Lambie said. “I think it’s great because it teaches kids how to care.”
For more information on Ragdolls and the Delta Society’s therapy animal program, see: www.barsadollsragdolls.net and www.paws4healing.info.
D.C. Spencer is a freelance writer. Send e-mail in response to firstname.lastname@example.org.