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Percy Katz, a handsome Russian Blue, was the official cat-in-residence and museum greeter at the Joplin Museum Complex in Joplin, Missouri, in the southern United States. He joined the staff in December 1999, when as a small kitten he was found one day crouching under a large, wooden hand jig (a kind of mining tool) that stands in front of the museum entrance. There wasn't much room under there, but museum director Brad Belk was able to slide in a plate of food for the youngster. Staff continued to feed him thus for about a week, until the weather forecast threatened a heavy snowstorm and led to fears for his safety. Brad managed to grab him and take him inside and he lived there from then on. Percy became the mascot and trademark of the museum and in some ways came to represent Joplin itself, so well known did he become. He was named after local Joplin composer Percy Wenrich.
Percy had two great attributes for a museum cat: he was very agile, so was able to navigate around the place without knocking over or damaging artefacts; and he was excellent at public relations! He liked to meet and greet visitors at the door, but didn't overdo it and knew when to back off and not outstay his welcome. Children loved him, and he was fine with dogs he just didn't much like other cats, having had no former experience of them. Most years he had a birthday party, to which local people were invited in return for a donation to one of the town's humane societies.
In August 2006 someone 'catnapped' Percy; staff made a plea to the public to assist in searching for him and the event was reported all over the local news media, receiving 'as much attention as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping'. Fortunately he was returned within a couple of days, being put into a cat carrier that had been set up outside the building.
Later that same year the cat suffered from cancerous lesions on his abdomen and one of his hind legs, for which he was treated at Overland Park, Kansas but an aggressive form of fibrosarcoma returned. He therefore needed radiation treatment, which was carried out at the University of Missouri-Columbia Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where there was not only an innovative veterinary oncology programme but also one of the few linear accelerators dedicated to radiation therapy for veterinary use. Percy had a stay of four weeks and 20 or so doses of radiation, which seemed to clear up the problem with no bad side effects. He recovered over the Christmas period of 2006. Nurses kept the curtains drawn around him when possible, so he couldn't see and become upset by other cats being treated at the facility. The museum emphasised that Percy's treatment was funded by donations and there was no question of using any museum funds.
Percy was soon back on the job, greeting museum visitors from all over and even receiving letters from around the world. In the local area he was quite a celebrity, with a number of newspaper and magazine articles written about him. He counted the Governor of Missouri amongst his many fans, and even had his portrait in oils (above), painted and donated in 2003 by a local artist, hanging in the museum lobby. Apparently on one occasion Brad Pitt's mother visited the museum, wanting one of Percy's kittens to give to Brad's wife at the time. Unfortunately for her, of course, Percy was neutered!
After ruling the roost at the Joplin Museum since his arrival in 1999, Percy had to adjust to a new companion or in fact two of them. In late June 2013 a grey cat similar to Percy was seen in the town park, causing someone to call in and say he had escaped: but he was safely at home. Museum staff put food out for the stray as it appeared to be which was quickly eaten. Eventually, after a few days, they were able to catch it and take it in, where it was cared for in a quiet area away from where Percy hung out. It turned out to be a thin but friendly female cat and she was pregnant!
The plan was to let her have the kittens, have them adopted when they were old enough, and keep her at the museum on a trial basis to see if Percy approved, and of course whether she fitted into museum life herself. There were six kittens, and Crystal, as she was named, turned out to be an excellent mother, taking good care of them. After weaning, five of them were adopted to new homes, but for some reason one wasn't; named Roxie, it was decided she too should join the museum staff.
Crystal was spayed so she wouldn't have more kittens; but there was a scare with Roxie later when she became lethargic and wasn't eating. A trip to the vet indicated that her intestines had 'telescoped' and would need quite complex surgery. For a few days her fate was in the balance, but then she made a complete recovery.
In February 2014 it was reported that after a 'brief period of adjustment' Percy had accepted the newcomers, and in fact they had brought new life to the 'old boy' and he was spending less time sleeping! It also meant that when he eventually passed on, his succession at the museum would be assured. For the time being the Joplin Museum Complex was home to three beautiful feline residents.
Percy died from old age on 3 November 2017, after almost 18 years at the museum where he'd arrived as a small kitten. He was extremely well thought of there, a great ambassador for the place, friendly to everyone, and became a sort of 'elder statesman' as he aged. Brad Belk wrote a lovely tribute to their long-time friend.
He is survived by his companions from the museum: Crystal, who had turned up there pregnant in mid-2013, and one of her six kittens who stayed after having been born there, Roxie. They are quite young and, all being well, should be around for some years yet.
Thanks to Michael Munster of Joplin for sending news of Percy's passing, and the photos shown in the image to the right. Images of Percy in the window, and the close-up of his portrait, courtesy of jamie_lee3 at Flickr. Others are from the museum's Facebook page and Twitter feed, or courtesy of the Joplin Globe, or from web pages that are no longer available in 2018.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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