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Stray Tomcat Goes Straight to the Heart of His Class

Associated Press

Like many schools, Sunburg Elementary has computers. But if you were to take a poll, the favorite learning tool of the pupils probably would be a big black-and-white tomcat named Boots.

The cat turned up at the school last fall, according to third-grade teacher and cat lover Elverna Johnson, and the children took an immediate liking to him.

First, they began sneaking cafeteria leftovers to him. Then they started letting him in the front door when nobody was looking.

“That’s how it started,” Johnson said. “They’d pick him up on the steps and bring him in.”

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Became School Mascot

Johnson and her husband, Gerhard, the school’s custodian, took it from there. The cat was neutered and given his shots and now has a home at the school. He is the Sunburg Elementary mascot.

Boots was “dirty, shabby--terrible,” Gerhard Johnson recalled. Elverna Johnson said Boots was “just a skinny cat.” But she noted he has that problem licked and now weighs 12 pounds.

“Now he’s like Garfield,” said Randy Braaten, one of Boots’ third-grade classmates. “Like in that commercial--he’s a fat cat.”

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In his boiler-room home, Boots dines on three different kinds of cat food, with raw meat every morning and grated cheese for between-meal snacks.

Boots gets plenty of petting and grooming from his classmates. His coat is glossy and his demeanor is regal.

Doubles as Exterminator

“There’s a hot pipe down there,” Gerhard Johnson said, pointing to a corner of the boiler room. “He likes to lie in the corner.”

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Besides guarding the school when it’s closed, Boots does a little exterminating at no cost to the school district.

“One year I caught 32 mice in here,” Gerhard Johnson said. “There’s none anymore.”

Elverna Johnson said the children love Boots. “All the kids are so good to him, they’ve spoiled him,” she said.

Her class took time off from math one afternoon to show off what they’ve learned from Boots.

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“We shouldn’t pull him by the tail,” Jason Medalen said. “His backbone is in his tail.”

“They have 250 bones,” Jeff Rice ventured. “If you pull his tail, it might hurt his back.”

Other students noted that some cats don’t like to be picked up.

Portrait Hangs Near Desk

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“Mrs. Johnson took a picture of him when we took our school pictures,” said Heather Netland. Boots’ official class portrait hangs near his own personalized desk, where he spends most of his days dozing in the sun. Once in a while, he will yawn, stretch and mosey out to the corridor to survey his domain.

Boots spends vacations at the Johnson home with their two cats, but then it’s back to Sunburg Elementary.

Elverna Johnson said her students have learned something they might not have learned elsewhere--or from a computer.

“I don’t think there’s a harsh boy or girl left in school,” she said.

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