BRIDGTON — When Pam and Justin Ward first brought their gray tabby cat to Bridgton Books three years ago, it seemed destined.

Sergei – named after Sergei Samsonov, a Boston Bruins winger from the mid-2000s – was not happy at home.

The Wards had just moved from their old farmhouse in Bridgton to a new home in Denmark, and Sergei was lonely. The Wards’ children had all left for college. The Wards’ black Lab, Maddy, who Sergei had slept with in the bathroom every night, had died.

The Wards were away at the shop during the day, and Sergei was almost inconsolable when they got home, keeping them up all night, meowing for attention. An extremely vocal feline in good times, when stressed, Sergei was more akin to a siren than a cat.

“There’s no such thing as too much attention in his world,” Pam Ward said. “He was a cat that needed so much attention. I don’t know what took me so long, but I thought, ‘Let’s try to bring him into the store.'”

So, although car trips were hellish for Sergei, the Wards took him to the shop.

“He walked through the door, and it was like he was home,” Ward said. “He was back to his happy self.”

Sergei took to the scholarly life immediately, but his constant need for attention was still strong. Although customers took to him, Pam Ward said it was hard to balance Sergei’s needs with the work that goes into running the store.

“As soon as you walked in the door, he needed attention. We were like, oh, please someone come in the store really quickly, because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get the store going,” she said.

In the busy summer months, Sergei found the most attention in the middle of the children’s section. There, the gray, pudgy tabby with white paws and a white splash near his whiskers set up camp on a gray couch.

“He goes where the attention is, and in the summer, that’s the hot spot. They gave him lots of love,” Ward said. “It was never enough. You could just sit there and pat him all day.”

Although most children petted him, read picture books to him and hurried in to see him, sometimes a very young child would push Sergei to his limit.

“He had a really high threshold,” Ward said. Sometimes, a child who hadn’t quite mastered cat petting would accidentally squeeze him or handle him roughly.

“It didn’t happen that often, but when it did, he was like, OK, I’m out of here, and hid behind the counter or the back of the store,” she said.

Sergei was migratory. Once the summer business boom faded and gave way to fall, he’d sit in the chair closest to the counter, trying to gain the precious commodity of petting from any passers-by.

Sergei didn’t discriminate with his affection. He snuggled up to teenage boys, babies, children. A man once fell asleep in the back of the store with Sergei on his lap.

“It just seemed to naturally happen. We just took it one day at time,” Ward said.

On Dec. 14, it was time to say goodbye. Sergei was 17, had gradually started to slink away from petting, choosing to snooze in an old recycling box behind the counter. He was vocal, but not in his usual, demanding way; he was clearly in pain.

She said Sergei just wanted to sleep. So that Friday, the Wards decided to take Sergei to the Bridgton Veterinary Hospital.

Euthanasia, translated literally, means “good death.” Ward said the veterinarians at the hospital worked with her, went over options like palliative care, trying to keep Sergei alive for a few more days. But, as all pet owners eventually must, Ward decided it was time to say goodbye.

Trying to measure the overall quality of a pet’s life is hard, but Sergei’s impact on those who came into the book store is quantifiable.

Zoe Silvia of Bridgton was one of those touched by Sergei. Her mom is a librarian, and she grew up around books. Whenever they went downtown, they’d check out the used books, and spend at least 20 minutes with Sergei.

Later on, when Silvia worked at a sandwich shop up the street, she’d go in and visit him to help her get through the stress of the summer rushes.

“He was one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever met. Everyone says their cat is the greatest – I think my cat is the greatest but I think Sergei was the second greatest. He was so sweet, and so full of love. Every time I went in he would be with kids on the couch, and I’d have to wait my turn to hang out with him,” she said.

“He brought a really calming presence to the bookstore. Anyone who ever met him loved him,” she said.

Ward posted a goodbye on Facebook after Sergei died. More than 400 people liked the post, and dozens commented with their condolences. Ward has her own theories as to why Sergei was so well loved.

“He was picking people out. I’ve heard so many people say, ‘Our cat is nothing like him,'” she said.

And, oddly enough, it was Sergei’s un-catlike nature that drew so many to him. He was never aloof, never swatted or hissed, and seemed to gravitate toward people.

“He just had a sweet disposition, very caring and very loving,” Ward said.

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