When a cat named Joey arrived at a Little Rock, Arkansas, news station in 2007, a star was born.
No one realized it at the time, though — Joey was just a stray kitten looking for a warm place to sleep, and he found a heated cat house in the weather garden behind the THV 11 studio. The station’s resident kitty, Larry, a standoffish tomcat, had warmed up to Joey, much to the surprise of the station’s staff. Joey, however, was less eager to warm up to humans.
"It took about a month for us to ‘cat-whisper’ him," says Theba Lolley, THV 11’s community relations director.
Lolley says the original plan was to catch Joey, have him neutered and vaccinated, and adopt him out to a good home. At this point, many of the station’s viewers had seen Joey on television, so he had a number of potential suitors. But Joey’s friendship with Larry got in the way of those plans.
"Everyone knew about Joey, so there were a lot of people willing to adopt him," Lolley says. "But the relationship between Larry and Joey grew to the point where it was real obvious that Joey had to stay."
Unlike Larry, Joey was gregarious and liked being the center of attention — especially after Larry passed away later that year. Missing his friend, Joey sought love and affection from humans, who were happy to oblige — particularly Lolley, who became his primary caretaker. She also created a Facebook fan page for the cat, where he was a hit with viewers. It was official — Joey was the new resident kitty at THV 11.
"There was no way we could even think about getting rid of him after that," Lolley says.
When Joey befriended meteorologist Tom Brannon, the cat soon found his true calling in showbiz. Joey got to know the schedule of the news crew, and he was ready and waiting every day at 3 a.m. when the cameras were rolled into the garden, where Brannon gave the forecast each morning.
"He loved it when Tom would come out and do the weather," Lolley says. "He’d jump up on the railing, and Tom would give him a treat, and Joey would sit there during the weathercast. A star was born after that."
Joey became so popular that in 2012 he was featured on Animal Planet’s Must Love Cats. Unfortunately this professional peak was followed by a grim discovery: Shortly after the show aired, Joey was diagnosed with bone cancer. Lolley believes that Joey was trying to tell her something was wrong in the days preceding his diagnosis.
"Joey would come in my office, and he would sit and hold up his right front paw as if it was injured," she says. "He did not limp while he walked, but he absolutely acted like he could not apply pressure to his front paw while sitting."
The weird part, of course, is that the tumor was not located on Joey’s front right leg but his back left leg. Weirder still: The type of cancer Joey had is common and lethal in dogs, often killing them within a month, but it is extremely rare in cats. Without Joey’s warning signs, Lolley might not have caught the cancer in time.
"I believe that he was trying to tell us that he had something wrong with him by lifting up his front paw," Lolley says.
Joey’s next stop was the vet, Dr. Terry Dew, who specializes in small animal surgery. Dr. Dew believed he could remove the tumor without amputating Joey’s leg, as the cancer had not metastasized and appeared to be concentrated in one small area. Dr. Dew ended up removing a moon-shaped piece of Joey’s tibia and replacing it with bone grafts and metal plates.
The best part: Dr. Dew performed the procedure free of charge.
"Dr. Dew took it on because he was extremely curious that a cat would get that kind of cancer, and he was so confident in his findings and the other doctors’ findings around the nation that he made a bold decision," Lolley says. "This surgery would have cost us a fortune. How do you tell your business manager, ‘Uh, you didn’t expense for this, but …’"
After an intense two-month recovery period at Lolley’s house, Joey is back at the station. He’s enjoying his celebrity -ÔÇô according to Lolley, people come by to meet him and are totally starstruck. Joey’s fame helps Lolley raise money for area shelters and pets in need, as well as to inspire human and feline cancer survivors alike. A year after his ordeal, Joey is still cancer-free.
"He represents a really sweet, positive, kind heartbeat for people," Lolley says. "Especially when the recession hit, he was something sweet, safe and kind. The most rewarding part for me is sharing him with everybody else."
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