The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 5, 2014

Mike Pound: Percy adjusts to new members of museum family

When Brad Belk told Percy that because there was a woman around, Percy’s life would be forever changed, neither of them knew what that change would be.

Percy didn’t know because ... well ... because he’s a cat. And Brad didn’t know because he’s a human, and let’s face it, we seldom know what cats are thinking.

Brad is the director of the Joplin Museum Complex in Schifferdecker Park, and Percy, of course, has been the official museum cat since 1999.

In his long life, Percy has survived a tough time on the streets as a young cat, a serious bout with cancer and a mysterious disappearance from the museum. But all of that was mere child’s play compared with having his world turned upside down by a female cat named Crystal and a kitten named Roxie.

Of course, things could have been even more complicated for Percy. Crystal turned up at the museum last summer starving and pregnant, and she soon gave birth to six kittens. Five of the young cats were adopted, but for whatever reason, Roxie was not, and it didn’t take long for Brad and his staff to decide to make the kitten an addition to the museum complex family.

The only concern, of course, was what Percy would think about the arrangement. Brad said that if Percy had given any indication that he wouldn’t be able to adapt to his museum mates, new homes would have had to be found for Crystal and Roxie.

But as it turned out, after a brief period of adjustment, Percy decided that he was OK having a couple of females hanging around. It doesn’t hurt that, in addition to looking alike, Crystal and Percy share the same temperament.

“Crystal is just the best mom, and she and Percy are both so laid back and tolerant,” Brad said.

Of course, it’s one thing for a 15-year-old bachelor cat who is stuck in his ways to tolerate an adult female cat. It’s quite another to adapt to a feisty, playful kitten who seemingly is on the go all the time. Brad acknowledged that he wasn’t sure how Percy would feel about sharing his home with a kitten. In fact, he was concerned that Percy would withdraw a bit. But, Brad said, the opposite has happened.

“Before, Percy spent most of his time sleeping, but now his eyes are wide open and he’s wondering what the girls are up to,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, Crystal and Roxie were curled up on top of the cat tower that sits in the museum lobby. Percy, after getting some attention from a visitor, retreated to a nearby room for a nap.

As peaceful as the scene was, it was sort of hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, there was some doubt that Roxie would be around much longer.

Several weeks ago, Roxie became listless and lethargic, and she wasn’t eating. Brad took the kitten to Steve Walstad, the unofficial museum veterinarian. On a Saturday morning, Steve called Brad and said there was a chance that Roxie might not make it. The problem, Brad said, was that Roxie’s intestines had “telescoped” and she would need a complicated surgery.

“It was touch-and-go for three or four days (after the surgery),” Brad said. “But it wasn’t long until she was back to her normal self.”

Now, if you didn’t know better, you would think that Percy, Crystal and Roxie are all one big family. All three cats share the same smoke-gray fur and — during Roxie’s rare quiet times — the same laid-back disposition. And in a way, the cats are one big happy family. Brad likens Percy to an old bachelor uncle who is now living with his niece and her daughter. Sort of like Uncle Joe in “Petticoat Junction.”

Brad doesn’t like to dwell on what the new cats mean to the museum, but in a way, a line of succession has been created.

“Percy is 15. He’s not going to be around forever,” Brad said.

But now there are two cats who can ensure that no matter what, Percy’s legacy will carry on.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at mpound@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.

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