Sarah Bernhardt

Arts & Culture Library
Wotton, Quebec, Canada


One afternoon, almost two decades ago, a tiny female black cat found refuge at the Missisquoi Library in Philipsburg, Quebec. As it happened, the cat’s owner had recently adopted what proved to be an anti-cat dog which terrorized the poor thing who instantly was granted the status of political refugee by the library patrons and volunteers. Before long, and with the owner’s blessing, she became the library cat-in-residence. Given her theatrical nature and the fact she was limping, she was re-named Sarah Bernhardt, like the famous international French stage actress.

Over time, Sarah Bernhardt befriended several hundreds library patrons and visitors, mostly from Quebec Eastern Townships, but also from Vermont and New York State as well as occasional tourists from overseas. Her growing celebrity status soon required the assistance of a secretary to take care of her correspondence (she occasionally wrote letters to the editor of the Lake Champlain Weekly), and of a personal care taker, which tasks, as the library staff person, I gladly accepted, first in Philipsburg, then in Stanbridge-Station, and more recently in Wotton, north-east of Sherbrooke.

Health wise, Sarah Bernhardt was always fragile, prone to catch every passing bug during her outdoor years, although less so when she became an indoor cat. She remained tiny and skinny, possibly due to a thyroid imbalance. Her little heart always beat faster than it should have. And her limping probably had something to do with the fact that she was polydactyl, having six toes on her front paws and four on her rear paws. Some time ago, she suffered what appeared to be a stroke, and in 2007, a relapse which left her severely impaired. The vet offered to put her to sleep, which I declined, given that she still enjoyed performing her duty as library-cat-in-residence, remaining playful and occasionally mischievous. Of course, she much resented the fact that she could no longer jump from the floor onto the kitchen sink, but then, at eighteen years old, going on nineteen, as I explained to her, even super-cats must slow down!

In December, 2007, three months before she died, she was honored as “Cat of the Week” on the United Cats Website which brings together over 10,000 cat lovers from around the world and where she had her own web page. Having been given for dead, six months ago, as she remarked in an interview, this nomination was a sweet revenge. Sensing that she was reaching the end of the road, her web page diary’s last entry on December 23 was to offer her Seasons’ Greetings for 2008, including a “Happy Festivus”.

In early March, 2008, for the last time, Sarah Bernhardt performed her duty as library-cat-in-residence.

Normand D. Paquin
Sarah Bernhardt’s Secretary