Cleo turns her final page at bookstore

By Maura Wery

Last weekend saw the death of a longtime Aggieville figure: a tortoiseshell-colored cat named Cleo. The faithful companion who lived at The Dusty Bookshelf, 700 N. Manhattan Ave., spent 21 years among the books and left a lasting impression on the people she met in the store.

Her owner, Diane Meredith, who also owns The Dusty Bookshelf, said Cleo’s life started out bleak. She was found along with her littermate, Maxine and two other kittens in a parking lot in Aggieville.

“The litter appeared to be dropped off in a place that a mother cat wouldn’t place them,” Meredith said.

She took the kittens home with her, feeding them wet food until they were old enough to adopt, then used the bookstore to find them new homes. Two of the four were taken, but Meredith just couldn’t part with “sassy” Cleo and “sweet” Maxi.

“I just had to keep them,” Meredith said.

So Maxi and Cleo became the furry friends in the bookstore, greeting customers and keeping employees of the bookstore company, as well. Maxi died five years ago, but her sister lived on.

According to Meredith and others who worked in the store, Cleo often demanded attention, and there were dire consequences if she was ignored. Employee Leah Hyman experienced this firsthand.

“I used to work the counter and I was going through a pile of request slips,” Hyman said. “I was ignoring her for quite awhile, and then she jumped on the counter, took her paw and knocked the request slips over. We had a complicated relationship.”

Meredith said Cleo also hated dogs and would stalk them in the windows as they came by the store. One day, when a large black Lab wandered in on a busy Saturday, Cleo went so far as to defend her turf. Meredith said that Cleo chased the dog through the crowded store and out the door.

“Once he was out, she did this kind of victory prance by the door,” Meredith said.  “She was definitely queen.”

Meredith and the employees also said that Cleo enjoyed being brushed, sitting on the counter, taking long naps on the various chairs around the store, riding around with Maxi on the store dust mop and sometimes taking a peek outside. But the most important thing Cleo did was provide people with a little bit of the love one can only get from a cat.

“We had a lot of college students who just needed a pet fix,” Meredith said. “They would say that they left their cat at home and just needed to come in and pet the cats.”

Meredith said the bookstore will have some kind of memorial for Cleo. She and the staff have even gone so far as considering a wake, but her current plan is to get a donation jar with Cleo’s picture on it and donate the funds somewhere, as they did when Maxi passed away. Meredith also plans to get two nicely framed pictures of Maxi and Cleo placed in the bookstore in their memory.

“Saturday is going to be very hard,” Wilson said. Meredith said because of the football game Friday, she and the rest of the staff anticipate having to tell many people who remembered Cleo and haven’t been back to Manhattan about the news.

Meredith said she doesn’t know whether The Dusty Bookshelf will ever have a furry friend to welcome customers and employees again.

“We haven’t really talked about it yet,” Meredith said. “It just seems too soon.”

Meredith and the crew will take time to mourn Cleo’s death, and although they aren’t looking for a cat at the moment, she said some employees have thrown out some other options, such as a bookstore goat or even a bookstore llama.

Mostly, Meredith said they will just miss Cleo’s constant presence. She was an ambassador of the store and a friend to its staff and customers. She said Cleo brought a lot of joy to the business.

“It’s just kind of weird not having her around,” Wilson said.

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