KokoCat is a cat book designed to give birds a break

Author Lynda Graham-Barber’s mission is to help stray pets find homes

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 11-7-2012

BARTON — The PETS of the Kingdom group has a booth in the Village Treasures store.  Author Lynda Graham-Barber of Newport Center has set up the display which will benefit the group’s efforts.

“A lot of stuff here has been donated by people who love animals,” she said.

One of the items for sale is Ms. Barber’s new book, KokoCat, Inside and Out.  It has just won a Moonbeam award, a national award judged on content, originality, and design among other factors, with an emphasis on innovation and social relevance.

PETS of the Kingdom has been running a trap and release program in Orleans County for two and a half years.  One of the colonies they have been trapping is a group of feral cats that live in the neighborhood of the Chronicle office in Barton.  It has been doing the same thing with colonies living at large dairy farms in Derby, Irasburg, and Barton.

The cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated and released back into the neighborhood.  Food, water, and shelters are continually provided.  Cats that have been trapped have a small notch in an ear so they can be identified by sight if a person can get that close to them.

Ms. Graham-Barber’s interest in animal advocacy started when she was a new bride and moved to Brooklyn, New York, from where she had grown up in a small town in western Pennsylvania.

At home there were no stray pets to speak of — in Brooklyn they seemed to be everywhere.  Ms. Graham-Barber decided she had to try to help these animals.  As she put it in an interview:

“To paraphrase Mother Theresa, if you can’t help a hundred dogs, then just help one.  It matters to that one.”

At that time, Ms. Graham-Barber volunteered with the Humane Society of New York, walking dogs who were up for adoption.  She volunteered for some other groups and then teamed up with a fellow animal lover to informally find places for strays they had found.

One of the dogs she rescued in those years literally looked like a pile of rags on a corner of the subway platform; then the pile moved.  He had sarcoptic mange.  Ms. Graham-Barber applied cream three times a day and the dog grew a crop of hair.  He recovered, and they named him Metro.  She is working on a children’s book about him called Cookie.

Since moving to Vermont, Ms. Graham-Barber has been active with local animal organizations, including the Pope Memorial Frontier Animal Shelter and PETS of the Kingdom, which stands for Promoting Ethical Treatment for Strays.  She is the co-founder of Animal Rescue of the Kingdom (ARK).

In New York she worked as an associate editor for Morrow Junior Books before starting a freelance career.  She wrote for magazines including Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Travel and Leisure, and she wrote two books about decorating.  But recently she has gone back to where she started and is mainly writing children’s books.

She decided to write KokoCat after a neighbor called her over to help identify a bird.  The bird had been killed by her neighbor’s cat.  It was a chestnut-sided warbler, and Ms. Graham-Barber kept thinking about the journey the bird had made here from its wintering ground in Venezuela or Peru, only to be killed by a well-fed house cat.

Ms. Graham-Barber said it happens so often that the National Aubudon Society has said all over the world, cats may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause other than habitat destruction.

Ms. Graham-Barber decided to write KokoCat to send a message to children that keeping a cat indoors saves birds, and the cat is likely to live longer and face less danger.  She realizes this message is a controversial one, but believes cats and birds would both be better off if more cats were kept inside.

KokoCat tells the story of a cat that normally lives indoors getting outside by mistake and finds herself cold, hungry, and alone — until she hears her owners’ voices and finds her way back in.

The last page of the book, written for parents and adults, lists some statistics and reasons to keep a cat indoors.  The book is available at the booth at Village Treasures in Barton or at WoodKnot Bookshop and Wider Than the Sky in Newport, among other bookstores.  It was published by the Gryphon Press, illustrated by Nancy Lane, and is hardcover.

The booth at Village Treasures definitely shows Ms. Graham-Barber’s incredible knack for decorating with odds and ends.  She has a way of taking something that might be thrown away, under other circumstances, and making it into a little inexpensive piece of art.

Some of these pieces she made with the help of her husband, artist David Hunter.  For example, she took an old tray from a trunk and got her husband to make some small metal handles for it.  With the addition of a decoupaged dog, it is a lovely and useful tray.

The booth includes items she and others have made, and things found at yard sales.  An old grain scoop from E.M. Brown and Son has a new life as a candle sconce.  The piece is old enough that the telephone number painted on it is 25.

Ms. Graham-Barber has no fear of running out of things to sell at the booth, as she is always finding and creating more.  The booth with have changing seasonal themes, and many of the pieces are animal-related.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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