(NEWS CENTER) -- Togus the Cat, our STORM CENTER mascot passed away this week.
From Don Carrigan:
He found us by chance, totally by chance. A huge, somewhat scroungy Maine coon cat, rescued with more than two dozen others from a place that could no longer care for them.
Now, a decade later, it almost seems we were pre-destined to have Togus the Cat be part of our lives.
How else do you explain the total bond between Togus and my wife, Donna (Togus' Mom)? The story in his children's book is true: two days after being brought to our house, Togus finally came out of his crate, jumped onto Donna's lap, snuggled into her shoulder, and began a ten-year love affair.
How else do you explain Togus becoming a TV star? Of all the people who could have adopted him, it was the guy who works on television. A simple, phoned-in snow report from our kitchen, with a couple of photos of Togus and me at the table, started his celebrity. Lee Nelson asked why my dog was on the table in the photo. I replied simply "That's not a dog, that's our 26-pound coon cat, Togus."
From there, Togus' fame grew steadily. We added video from the kitchen, and then a Facebook page created by John Blunda. Following a little push on the Morning Report one day, the Togus page simply took off. A thousand fans, then two thousand, then five thousand. Today he has more than 10,500 fans.
How to explain it? The winter the Facebook page began, I mentioned to a woman at the State House that the whole thing seemed crazy -- all these people wanting to be online fans of a cat. "It isn't crazy at all," the woman said. "Look around. Its winter, the economy's terrible, people are having a hard time. He just makes you feel good."
And maybe it is that simple. A big, fluffy, friendly cat with remarkable ears, a striking, lion-like face with enormous eyes, looking at you from his kitchen table. There was just something about that face and those eyes that made people (well, most people) want him at their own table. We got a few comments, of course, from grumpy folks disgusted that we'd let the cat on the table. But far more came from those who seemed to love Togus as much as we did. "He just makes you feel good."
When Togus made his first public appearance at Louis Doe's Pet Center in Newcastle, a woman drove all the way from Machias so her kids could see him. A girl with diabetes came from Lincolnville. More than a hundred others came from near and far. People would visit Togus when he boarded at the pet center overnight.
Then, when we rolled out his children's book last year, more people found him. Wherever he went - book stores, hardware stores, libraries, schools, even senior centers, Togus drew crowds. He would sit there in a big wire dog kennel and gaze serenely at his public. Countless people told us "my cat would never stand for this."
But Togus did.
He had an incredible sense of performance, seeming to know he was on stage. He would patiently let kids and grownups touch and pat him, with never a swat of the paw. Sometimes he'd fix them with a penetrating stare from those enormous eyes. Other times he'd roll on his back or just calmly take a snooze, seemingly unconcerned by the hubbub around him.
He was, in looks, temperament and attitude, perfectly suited for stardom.
Yet even with all the public adoration, I like to think Togus gave more than he got. There was something about his story, the rescue cat who finds a home, that touched people. A teacher told us she read the book to her class of special-ed students. Afterwards, the kids wrote letters to Togus, heartwarming letters about how they were glad he'd found a home and family to love him. A few made comments that they, too, wanted love like Togus had. Some even wrote that Togus 'taught us to never give up hope."
Togus, you see, was more than just a cat. Donna (Togus' Mom) says he was "part human". The way he looked at you, the way he sensed your moods. The way he would sit by your chair, stretch up and whack you on the arm with his paw as if to say, "Hey! I'm here. Pay attention." He'd climb on your lap in front of the TV, or curl around your head while you slept. He was always happy to see you when you came home, always ready to take the next trip, meet the next crowd. Ready for the camera on snowy mornings -- sometimes strolling into the room a minute before airtime, jumping on the table and taking his place, just in time. He was, indeed, more than a cat.
So now he's gone, and there is a tremendous hole in our lives.
We are heartbroken, of course, but also very grateful. We shared ten years with an incredible creature. "Member of the family" doesn't do him justice. He was a presence in our lives every day. He was part of who we are. Everywhere I go, people ask about Togus. "How's the cat? Where's the cat today?" Every day, every news assignment for the past six years or more, people have asked the question. Togus, the huge and friendly Maine Coon Cat, was truly larger than life.
Before their orders changed, a Maine National Guard unit, heading for Afghanistan, was all set to take a big cutout of Togus with them to the war zone. He rode the train to collect coats for needy kids. He cut the ribbon to open a new animal shelter. He was grand marshal of the Pumpkin Fest parade. He sat on the Governor's desk. Our granddaughter's second word was, yes, "Togus."
Crazy? No, I don't think that any more. I agree with the woman from Augusta. For us, and for so many others, Togus just made you feel good.
WCSH 6 and WLBZ 2 have set up a Togus Memorial Fund for anyone who wants to make a donation in his memory. The money will be distributed to animal welfare groups and shelters around the state. If you would like to make a donation, you can send it to:
Togus Memorial Fund
One Portland Square
PO Box 9540
Portland, Maine 04112