Now I Know - Now I Know: But The Cat Came Back

I tried to make a joke about the sign in the background of the picture below, but it felt too forced to work. Oh well. -- Dan
 

But The Cat Came Back

White Settlement, Texas, is a suburb of Fort Worth and home to about 17,000 people. Given the population, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that White Settlement has a library -- currently, it's open from 10 AM to 6 PM on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. So no, you can't visit it today -- it's closed on Wednesdays. But back in 2016, that wasn't the case. As its now-shuttered website advertised, the library was open Sunday through Thursday from 10 AM to 7 PM back then. You could stroll in late on Wednesday morning, browse some books or maybe some DVDs, use a computer terminal, and say hi to Browser. That's him, pictured below.

Browser, per the library's old website, was the institution's unofficial mascot. In 2010, inspired by the story of another library cat, the White Settlement Public Library adopted Browser from a local animal shelter. He originally was there to help catch rodents, per the city's mayor, but Browser also captured the hearts of the White Settlement residents. The cat quickly adapted to his new home and became a local favorite, and even helped raise money for the library -- every year, the institution sold a calendar of Browser photos (like the one above) or engaged in a similar campaign "to help support the posh lifestyle of this precious kitten." 

But not everyone was a fan. And one of Browser's few enemies had power.

It was, originally, a take of discrimination: cats in the library were okay, but dogs in other municipal buildings? Not so much. In the first half of 2016, according to CBS News, "a city worker apparently demanded Browser’s removal after the worker was not allowed to bring a puppy to work at City Hall." That seems like an overreaction, but strange things happen in small-town politics, and the city council decided to take up the issue of four-legged creatures in two-legged spaces. In June of that year, the six-member council -- five district leaders and the mayor -- discussed the issue, with a majority of those voting against the interests of Browser. Per ABC News (in an article comically but straightforwardly headlined "Beloved Cat Fired from His Job at a Local Public Library"), "the town council decided that animals are no longer allowed in city facilities." Browser had 30 days to find a new home.

As anyone would have predicted, the public outcry against the decision was swift and loud. Within days, nearly a thousand of White Settlement's residents signed a petition asking the town council to reverse their stance or, at least, make an exception for Browser. Mayor Ron A. White, who voted against the rule that kicked Browser out, placed a motion to reconsider on the agenda for the board's next meeting, which was to take place just a few days before Browser's 30-day window expired. That was enough to start the ball rolling; as news of the cat's eviction spread throughout the globe, White Settlement's leadership felt sillier and sillier. The town council didn't even wait for the scheduled meeting to undo this error; on July 5th, a week before they were supposed to meet, the panel met and voted unanimously to reverse their decision. (The ABC News headline? "Beloved Cat Will Keep His Job at the Local Library After International Backlash.")

The backlash wasn't quite done yet, though. Elzie Clements, the council member who led the campaign against Browser, was up for re-election that year (a fact he noted when bringing the initial resolution to the floor that June). And while he joined the rest of the council in voting to reverse the ordinance he stumped for, the electorate must not have forgiven him. That November, Clements lost his re-election campaign in a landslide, taking only 42.6% of the vote. Browser kept his job; Clements lost his. 

One can't say there were no hard feelings, though. While Browser didn't comment on this whole ordeal -- well, maybe he did, but there were no meow-to-English translators available -- Clements used his last moments in government to again kick the cat out. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Clements "put an item on the council agenda for [his final meeting] seeking to boot Browser yet again." (As he told the press, "My view hasn’t changed — I don’t believe we need animals in our buildings.") The agenda item never came up for a vote.


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Bonus fact: White Settlement's population loved its cat -- and they really like their town's name, too. According to the city's official website, White Settlement was given its name by Native Americans that lived in the area; as white people moved into the region, "the Native Americans began to call the area 'White Settlement.'" Whether fact or folklore, the name is an explicit reference to the race of the people who founded the city. That proved somewhat problematic, and as Mayor White's successor told NPR: "there are many businesses and developers and real estate brokers who seem to have a reluctant and caution, if you will, about the name." So in 2015, the town voted on whether to change it to "West Settlement." The original name proved more popular, and overwhelmingly so: the ballot measure failed by a 9-to-1 margin.

From the Archives: The Cat's Cradle: The hotel where cats were the main attraction.
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