TOWNSEND -- It was definitely a win-win situation. Animal lovers got to meet Toto, a feline survivor of a tornado in Brimfield, and his owner raised more money for animal charities.
The two-year-old black and white cat charmed his young fans who picked him up, cuddled with him and even got some upside-down cat kisses. He and owner Jonathan Hill visited the Townsend Public Library on April 17.
Hill, a paramedic, was working at the Brimfield Fire Station during the aftermath of a 2011 tornado when a tree worker carried in a bedraggled kitten. He found the little guy as he was trimming damaged trees.
Hill and his wife, a state trooper, could not take the orphan home so the infant kitten moved to the Animal Rescue League of Boston. There, workers fed the less than one-month-old kitten using a bottle until he could move to a foster home.
In the meantime, the Hills repaired their home that had been damaged in the storm. Five weeks later, the kitten went home with the couple and soon became a star.
Hill wrote a picture book about the feline and teamed up with his local bank, the Country Bank, to publish it. Since then, the man who had never written a book before or even worked with children has visited over 150 libraries and senior centers to read his book on his days off. So far the team of Hill and his cat, with a little help from his wife, have raised more than $37,000.
Toto is used to the attention he gets during his appearances. Wearing a harness and leash, he visited with the children and played with the donations.
Hill read "Toto the Tornado Kitten," asking the audience questions as he went along. "Who is your librarian?" "What is an illustrator?" The best part about writing a book is "you get to be in it," he told the group. He pointed out the man in a cap driving a truck with a kitten in it. It was Hill.
He taught the children to say a few things, like the title of the book, in American Sign Language and even got a group to measure the cat using a tape measure.
Thanks to the grant from the bank, he was able to donate a book to the library. Books were for sale to families and children who attended, with the proceeds donated to charities, including local animal shelters.
Each book was signed by Hill and Toto, too. "That's Toto's real paw print right there. What do you think about that?" he said as he stamped a book.
Teachers and students from the Village Common Children's Center brought along cat litter and canned food. Hill promised to donate it to a local shelter. Some of the kids contributed their allowance. Toto had a fine time playing with the bills and coins before he and his owner left to to visit another library.