Happy birthday, Mr. Rawls

Published 10:47 am Saturday, July 10, 2010

COURTLAND—The Walter Cecil Rawls Library was packed Friday afternoon as children and adults alike celebrated a special first birthday.

Mr. Rawls, the four-legged honoree, ran across the room filled with dozens of his closest friends, stopping occasionally to take a few licks of his special ice cream. As the official library dog, he is the first of his kind in Virginia, according to Yvonne Hilliard-Bradley, the director of the Blackwater Regional Library.

“He has his favorites, but he really does love everybody,” she said.

Library officials say Mr. Rawls has helped draw more people into the library, acted as a surrogate pet for those who can’t have their own and even boosted employee morale.

“He’s just been a little joy,” said Iola Lamison, the library’s branch manager.

But Mr. Rawls might not have ended up the official library dog if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of one employee.

Amy Lehman, the senior library assistant, was driving down the road last September when she saw a tiny dog dart out in front of her car from the woods.

“I thought I hit him,” she said. After she pulled over and got out of the car, Lehman said the 4-pound puppy came out again. She checked at nearby homes and in the newspaper, but couldn’t find an owner.

That’s how Mr. Rawls—aptly named for the library branch—became the official library dog.

“He has been here every day,” Lehman said. She takes Mr. Rawls home at night and on the weekends.

Hilliard-Bradley said she was “a little nervous” about bringing the idea before the library system’s board of directors. But after asking a few questions, the board gave its OK.

The library system doesn’t pay for Mr. Rawls’ care. Employees and patrons make sure his needs are met.

“He’s very well taken care of,” Lehman said.

Hilliard-Bradley said Mr. Rawls isn’t the first experience she’s had with an animal in a library. She worked at a branch in Norfolk that had a cat.

“She really tended to bring people in, and that’s what Mr. Rawls does,” she said, adding that he doesn’t “have the run of the library.”

Lehman said Mr. Rawls—well behaved, friendly and good with children—is “the perfect dog” for the library environment.

“Children who learn compassion for animals tend to be more compassionate to people,” she said.

Lamison said she sometimes takes Mr. Rawls along for library outreach activities at a local nursing home.

“The patients love him,” she said.

Library officials estimate Mr. Rawls was between 8 and 10 weeks old when he was found. His breed, however, remains a mystery.

“I’ll never forget standing at the side of the road and this little thing crying at my feet,” Lehman said. “I can’t believe that somebody let him go.”