Joey the Garden Cat: A TV Sensation | Community Spirit
Doris James is a freelance writer and former broadcaster from Arkansas, and a big fan of Joey the Garden Cat. You can follow her online as MizBejabbers.
During an evening newscast at a local television station, a slender gray striped cat hops upon the news desk. Anchor Liz Massey smiles and says, “Oh, here’s Joey.” The cat sits on the desk and gives the camera a green-eyed stare as Liz and fellow-anchor Craig O’Neil carry on with the newscast. The privileged feline is Joey the Garden cat who is a staff member of KTHV, the CBS affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas. Joey has become a big TV celebrity in Arkansas and his fame is spreading nationally.
His stardom has gained him the run of the station, a kitty mansion, and all the cat treats he can eat. He has been featured on national TV. Joey’s FaceBook page has more friends than any television personality in Arkansas. His main job is the morning weathercast with meteorologist Tom Brannon, but he sometimes serves as co-anchor on the afternoon news block right alongside co-anchors Liz and Craig – whenever he has a mind to. How did this adorable gray striped cat become a big TV star? His gangbuster personality, of course.
Joey isn’t the first garden cat at KTHV. In fact, he began his career as an intern to Larry, a large marmalade feline. Larry had joined the staff a couple of years earlier when the station built an outdoor landscaped setting for their weathercasts and dubbed it “The Weather Garden.” The garden was a unique innovation that became a living backdrop for interviews previously done by talking heads at tables, and its popularity grew. Then one day in 2005, when Larry was a little homeless kitten trying to survive near the station, he was found and adopted by cat loving employees. The station had a cat house complete with a heater built in the garden for him. Larry became a fixture in the garden and the fan mail started pouring in.
Then one day Joey sauntered into the garden, setting human nerves on edge, but Larry greeted him like an old friend and invited him to stay – without asking permission. That’s what cats do. Homeless Joey, who was maybe seven or eight months old at the time, accepted the invitation. Theba Lolley, Joey’s guardian at KTHV wrote on the station’s website: “It didn’t take Joey long to realize that the garden was a safe place with a consistent food source, a heated house, and most importantly, where Larry lived and stayed. Joey adored Larry.” A KTHV employee had intended to adopt Joey, but because of the deep friendship between the two cats, the staff agreed that Joey should remain. Since he was now a permanent staffer, he received a title, too, "Joey the Intern."
The cats got the best of care. Dr. Bob Hale of Briarwood Animal Clinic was already Larry’s veterinarian, and volunteered to take care of Joey, too. The good doctor also does a question and answer session about pets on the Medical Monday's segment of the morning show, “Ask Dr. Bob,” so everything fell into place.
I saw them as a Martin and Lewis comedy team with Larry as the no-nonsense straight man and Joey the comedian. KTHV fans ate up the duo. Their relationship was funny, sweet, and profitable, but sadly, it ended all too soon. Larry was a roamer who refused to stay confined and frequently went prowling with his other buddies who lived in the alley. He left the safety of the garden one day in 2007 and failed to return. A search of the neighborhood found Larry’s body in an abandoned building nearly a week later. There were no marks on his body, and today his death remains a mystery. (For more on Larry see his story.)
After this tragedy, Joey was promoted from Joey the Intern to Joey the Garden Cat. He learned the ropes quickly, demanding a higher salary of cat treats, and during a remodel of the garden, a luxury kitty condo. But he works hard for his rewards. Morning weather would never be the same without Joey’s assisting Tom Brannon with the presentation, and sometimes clawing a leg for another treat. In addition to conning cat treats from Tom, he makes impromptu appearances with all the morning regulars, including the police guests who give traffic reports and the chef from a local barbecue restaurant who prepares dishes on the show. The regular guests are trained to know what Joey likes, and sometimes he sits in waiting for a delicacy from the chef -- before the sauce is added, of course, so as not to upset his digestion.
Joey has made an occasional personal appearance for his favorite charities, Little Rock Animal Village and the Pulaski County Humane Society. Although he tries to be discreet, it is rumored that he is friends with some of the dogs.
He stills joins evening anchors, Liz, Craig, and Dawn Scott, on the news desk. It has been speculated that his appearances have upped the station’s ratings, much to the chagrin of a rival station whose fans have been known to post sour grapes on their websites. Joey takes criticism in stride, though. “Just be my friend on FaceBook and keep those cat treats coming,” he purrs.
In early 2011, Joey’s popularity rose to that of a national sensation. The cable channel Animal Planet featured him on a segment on their show “Must love cats” hosted by John Fulton. Fulton was quite taken and admitted that he was “just a little starstruck” when he met Joey, and he wrote and sang a song especially for him. As with any major celebrity, Joey now has his own product line featuring Tee shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads.
As I sat and watched Joey, I realized how much I loved the little fella, although I had never met him personally. (I have received an invitation to drop by the station and meet Joey, and I hope to do that soon. Gosh, I hope he signs me an autograph!) Then I thought of Larry and I hoped that nothing bad would ever happen to Joey. But something did. I write about Joey's illness and the concern shown by his fans in a separate hub