By Jenny Kalahar
For many years my husband, Patrick, and I owned a used bookshop in Ohio, near the campus of Ohio University. It was in one of those high-ceilinged, rambling old downtown buildings that probably started life as a bank or furniture store. We had tons of books, we had classical, blues and rockabilly music playing softly in the background, and we had Stomper.
Stomper was our silver spotted tabby British Shorthair, and he was probably one of the main attractions in all of downtown. Grumpy and cool, wise and Zen-like, he was disapproving of almost everyone he surveyed, but he was also very cuddly and affectionate to Pat and to me. He often sat on the front checkout counter where he could be closely admired by one and all, but if anyone tried to pet him, Stomper leaned away and scowled. If that didn’t get the message across, he would raise a paw, poised to strike. He was not a swatter, however. He just made his disapproval of public displays of affection from strangers clearly known.
After a year or two, we decided that Stomper should have a companion cat. My family had always taken in strays when I was a kid, but I’d pored over cat magazines deciding and changing my mind about which breed I might adopt when I had a house of my own. However, I knew I’d always get future pets from a shelter or as strays. When the time came that we were ready for another cat, we went to our local humane society to find a companion for Stomps—and for ourselves, of course. Stomper’s Toy was a gray longhaired beauty who was very happy with our shop, with us, and with all of the great book boxes she could climb upon at the rear of the bookstore. She wasn’t so hot on Stomper, though. The feeling was mutual. In all of the many long years they were together, Toy was definitely not anyone’s “toy.”
When we were at the shelter, we clearly saw that they were overcrowded with cats. A volunteer told us about a gift shop in town whose owners were fostering felines. The cats could wander the aisles and get to know the customers, making adoptions happen faster than would have been likely for them in the shelter. Pat and I decided to foster, too, and have the kitties roam our shop. So, taking in one, two, or more cats at a time, we found new, loving homes for more than fifty cats over those years. Other businesses fostered, too—cats, dogs and rabbits—and the tradition continues still today, even in the business that occupies our former bookstore building.
Stomper seemed to understand that the endless coming and going of felines was to some purpose, and he was very accommodating. In his own cantankerous way, of course. His grumpiness was actually helpful. If a customer wanted to give Stomps a pat on his round, adorable head, but then took their hand away when they got “the look,” we could then say, “but Mack here is very friendly—and he’s up for adoption, by the way.”
After we moved to Indiana, taking our Stomper and Toy with us, along with Cricket, Gromit, Missy and Mr. Kitty (we adopted two of the shop cats ourselves, and then took with us the two who hadn’t been adopted when we closed our store), I often talked about the fun we had with our furry fosters to other business owners. Customers loved having the cats to pet and sit with as they browsed and read, and it was a real help to the shelters. I wrote to humane societies with this idea, too, but they are very busy places and probably get kindly-meant advice constantly.
Wanting to promote the idea in some way that would reach possibly more shelters and small business owners, I decided to write a novel based on our experiences with Buglit and Boo, Snickers and Blitz, Tiger and Ely and so many others. I added a foster child apprentice to the bookshop tale to parallel his story with that of the foster cats. That novel now has a sequel, and a third book in the series is on its way, too.
Fostering is not a good fit for every type of business, but for not-too-busy stores that don’t serve food, it can be a delightful service to provide for the community. Please think about opening your shop doors to a sweet, healthy pet today, or encourage your favorite book, gift, or hardware store to consider becoming a fostering site.
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime: Another Tale of Used Books and Cats. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog, Bookselling and Writing with Weegee.
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