Herbert, the beloved cat at King’s Books in Tacoma, has died

Some cats are, well, just cats.

Herbert, according to King’s Books owner sweet pea Flaherty, was “an event.”

“I guess it’s kind of cliche to call him a cool cat, but he was a cool cat,” Flaherty, 48, said on Monday, describing the beloved black-and-white feline that called the well-known Tacoma bookstore home until last week. “(Herbert) was really engaged, but he was also aloof, and so you kind of wanted to be his friend… People would actually go out of their way to court him and get on his good side.”

With a nose and chin that appeared dipped in ink, Herbert was many things to many people, according to Flaherty. To some he was a friend and confidant, a sole reason to visit the store. To others, he was an intriguing enigma, nonchalantly lounging amid the stacks and paperbacks.

On June 21, Herbert died unexpectedly after a brief illness, King’s recently announced on social media. The feline was 11 — at least roughly, according to Flaherty, who adopted him in 2015. A celebration of Herbert’s life will be held at 6 pm on June 30 at King’s Books in Tacoma’s St. Helens neighborhood.

While Flaherty acknowledged that public memorial services for cats are relatively rare, the long-time bookstore owner said Herbert deserves the honor, and that — judging by the reaction to his death — the public clearly needs a chance to collectively mourn his passing.

Herbert left the physical world for whatever comes next with scores of heartbroken local admirers, Flaherty said.

“It’s hard, because here at the bookstore and the losing businesses it’s like we kind of have our private grief from a friend, but then we are also managing the public grief. People are sad. Customers have cried, just here at the store,” Flaherty said.

“It’s been kind of a lot.”

Herbert was also a lotwhich helps the outpouring of emotions make sense.

As a younger cat, Herbert arrived at King’s Books seven years ago ready to start the next chapter of life. Abandoned by his previous owner, Flaherty said, Herbert had survived on his unique charm and the generosity of neighbors, who fed him and kept him “plump and luscious” until he found his way to the Humane Society. There’s a history of bookstore cats at King’s dating back two decades, and it was quickly evident that Herbert — who only seemed to hate dogs — would fit right in, Flaherty said, in a large part because of his “nonplussed” nature and ability to “ take whatever’s coming.”

“It’s kind of a circus. We’ll have small children come in, and then some customers are very good with cats and some are not,” Flaherty said. “When (Herbert) was annoyed by customers, he would go and bite me.”

For the first three years of his time at King’s, Herbert wasn’t the only four-legged inhabitant of the bookstore. His longtime companion, a black feline named Atticus, passed away in 2018. According to Flaherty, Atticus’ death marked a low point for Herbert, who struggled with the loss of his dear friend.

In the wake of Herbert’s death, Flaherty said, hundreds of store customers are dealing with similar emotions. Many have reached out to share fond memories and condolences, and a couple from Washington DC, who befriended Herbert on a trip to Tacoma, even sent flowers to the store.

Flaherty shared a handful of emails with The News Tribune.

“When the pandemic closed King’s to browsing, I deeply missed the experience of being greeted (or possibly ignored) by Herbert as I entered the store. … The day I was finally able to enter the shop again was such a sweet blessing after so long away,” wrote one store patron.

“I’ll miss sweet, indifferent Herbert so much!!”

A week after Herbert’s passing, Flaherty said it’s the little reminders of the loss that hurt the most. It’s especially difficult in the mornings, when the doors open and Herbert’s not there clamoring for breakfast.

Still, while Flaherty is processing the shock of Herbert’s unexpected death, reading about how he touched customers’ lives — sometimes in unexpected ways — has helped the store owner navigate the pain.

“We know he was a special cat, but what we forget is that he had a real impact on other people,” Flaherty said.

“He definitely affected more people than we realize.”

Matt Driscoll is a columnist at The News Tribune and the paper’s Opinion editor. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll is passionate about Tacoma and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.


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