By People Staff
Updated February 24, 1986 12:00 PM

Who’s black and white and read about all over? Fred, the portly puss of Woodbury, Conn., is who. When kindly librarians let the shivering stray in from the cold 10 years ago, they never dreamed they were setting the stage for a contemporary cat controversy.

The fur began to fly in November 1984 when Woodbury resident Phyllis Delaney wrote to First Selectman Elizabeth A. Adams complaining that Fred’s presence in the public library made it impossible for her to use the facility. Along with allergies and asthma, Delaney suffers from ailurophobia, a debilitating fear of felines. The very sight of a cat, says Delaney, “makes me hyperventilate and then become practically catatonic.”

To mollify Delaney, a sympathetic library board came up with a list of options—such as keeping Fred out of the way when Delaney came to the library or sending books directly to her home. All were categorically unacceptable to Delaney, whose letter-writing campaign eventually extended to the Governor’s office. Meanwhile, media coverage across the country catapulted Fred, who happens to be a female, to national celebrity.

While Delaney has been vilified by cat-loving neighbors(“I feel like Karen Silkwood,” she says), Fred has garnered support from near and far. More than 150 townspeople signed a petition to keep her in the library. “Library cats unite!” wrote Bookums, the resident feline at the nearby Windsor Locks library, in one of the several dozen letters Fred has received. Through it all, the object of the controversy, whose sole responsibility is to keep a lid on the black crickets which gnaw on book bindings, has remained calm. “That is one laid-back cat,” says a library patron.

Late last month the Woodbury Library Board, after ascertaining that there was nothing illegal about a cat being kept in the public library, voted to let Fred stay. Overwhelmed by the public caterwauling her stand created, Delaney may have given up the fight. “I have read that the Woodbury library is one of the best in the state,” she wrote in her last letter to the local paper. “I’ll never know.” Selectman Adams, who has four cats of her own, admits it wasn’t an easy decision, but Fred’s popularity among the children and adults who use the library tipped the scales. Says Adams: “We were weighing the benefits to many people against one person.”

And so Fred, a fat cat with friends, is back in the catbird seat.