ELLINGTON, Conn. (AP) – As residents filtered into the Hall Memorial Library on Main Street during a recent hot and sticky day, Bob, the library’s cat-in-residence, beat the heat by napping on a chair in the reading room.

Bob, a large gray cat with black marking that looks like he could be a tabby, has been napping in chairs, countertops, tables and the floor since he started hanging around the library in the winter of 2004, according to library director Susan Phillips.

“He was just kind of hanging around the library,” says Phillips, Bob’s de facto owner, who started leaving food outside the library for the stray cat.

Phillips says she originally tried to find a home for the cat, who was adopted briefly by a Tolland woman. But the cat would run away, making the approximately 15-mile trek by paw back to Ellington.

Sometimes the trip took Bob several days, Phillips says. She started feeding Bob regularly after he came back for the second time.

“This is really where he wants to be,” she adds.

Bob has grown into a library regular over the years. He has a house, emblazoned with his name over the entrance, near the rear of the library, and has a bed in the back room of the library for days when the weather is bad and it’s not safe for him to be outside.

Residents fawn over the docile, pudgy feline whenever they come in the door, Phillips says.

“The people that like him really like him, and the kids come in to see him all the time,” Phillips says.

And Bob’s happy to be petted, she says, and doesn’t bother library patrons at all. He mostly sleeps and moseys around the stacks when he feels like he’s up for a walk.

Library cats are not an uncommon phenomenon, and Bob’s story is just one of the state’s long history of library felines.

There’s a Web site, maintained by Boston filmmaker and comedian Gary Roma, that aggregates library cats across the country. The site, www.ironfrog.com, claims there have been 19 library cats in Connecticut since 1976, including Bob.

Bob and Emma, who lives in the Lyme Public Library, are the only animals currently living in Connecticut libraries, as the others have seen all nine lives expire – like the late, world-renowned Emily of the Mystic & Noank Library of Mystic.

Emily was featured in The New York Times, The Day of New London and even made it into the international radio program Voice of America before she died in 2006 at nearly 18 years old, says Carolyn Scholz, an assistant librarian at the library.

“She was the calmest, sweetest kitty you ever saw,” she says, adding she suspects the cat was part Russian Blue because of her deep green eyes. “The first thing kids wanted to do was see Emily, and they had to pet Emily before they would leave.”

Scholz says library cats date back to the time of medieval monks, who needed cats around to protect the manuscripts they were creating from mice.

“They had to have the cats to protect what they were doing,” she says.

The 5-year-old Emma, who lives in the Lyme Public Library, was adopted for that very purpose, says Theresa Conley, library director. The library had a rogue mouse that it needed to get rid of, so it put out a notice to area shelters that it wanted a cat to live in the library.

Within a few weeks, the Valley Shore Animal Welfare League in Westbrook brought Emma, who is part Maine coon, to solve the problem.

“From the minute she walked in the door, it was like she belonged here, and she’s been here ever since,” Conley says. “We all love her here.”

Conley says Emma has never left the library, and patrons often donate to a jar on the counter to collect money to pay for her food. There’s an automated food dish for her when the library is closed for long weekends or extended periods, and an area veterinarian sees her pro bono.

Bob’s legend may be bigger than he is. No one knows how old he is, or how he’s avoided scrapes on his way home from Tolland. But he’s been loved by library patrons for four years, and is just as important as the Dewey Decimal system.

“That cat’s famous,” says Board of Education member Dan Keune. “There isn’t anyone associated with the library that doesn’t know Bob.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.