PITTSBURG - The story of a lost cat named Mr. Peabody is a Christmas tale that has a happy ending.
His owner, separated from him since before Thanksgiving, credits students, staff, and alumni of Pittsburg State University and the community of Pittsburg with finding him, caring for him, and ensuring his safe return.
The tale began on Nov. 20, when Vicki Neu and her husband, Rick Neu, were traveling between their home in Kingwood, Texas, and Basehor, Kansas, just as they passed the Pittsburg State University campus — a trip they've taken often. On board were their dog, Recee, and Mr. Peabody, who Vicki described as both loving companions to the Neus and to each other.
Just as they passed the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house across from Russ Hall, it happened:
"Recee stepped on the window control panel and rolled the window down," Vicki recalled.
Mr. Peabody jumped out.
They pulled over and took off after the cat, to no avail.
"I searched for three hours," Vicki said. "But then, we had to give up and leave him."
Her mother was headed to the hospital for surgery the next morning, and the couple had no choice but to continue on without him.
"I was heartbroken. Absolutely heartbroken. Anyone who has had a pet, or lost a pet, knows how that feels," Vicki said.
She also was worried: Mr. Peabody spends most of his time in Kingwood, and doesn't have a coat worthy of Kansas winters.
Vicki called veterinarians in the Pittsburg area, created a flyer with photos and her phone number, and turned to social media. She posted on the SEK Humane Society Facebook page, and it was noticed by Amy Gray, a PSU alumna who now teaches in Girard, and her daughter, Megan Gray, a junior in Interior Design.
Gray offered to help circulate a printed flyer with the help of her daughter. Her Facebook post about it was shared 282 times. One of her students, GHS senior Haley Hensley, took on the cause as a community service project, and spent hours over her Thanksgiving break posting flyers on campus and searching nearby neighborhoods.
And then, Mr. Peabody turned up on campus. The students who began caring for him were unaware of his name or his past. They simply saw a cat who was hungry and cold.
Sources say — but can't be confirmed — that at least a few of them took morsels of their own meals from the dining hall to feed him, and that one student might have snuck him into a residence hall in his backpack on a particularly cold night to keep Mr. Peabody, who had grown thin, from freezing.
Students also began sharing photos of their new furry friend on social media, in Snapchat stories and Instagram posts, all the while seeking to find his owner.
On Tuesday, Mr. Peabody took matters into his own hands and paid a visit to the Student Health Center a few hundred yards from where he had jumped from the car two weeks earlier, trying to get inside.
Meanwhile, Vicki continued to worry.
"My husband is a pilot and was preparing to leave for Singapore, so I had already decided that while he was gone, I was coming back to Pittsburg to look for him myself," she said. "I was going to just get a hotel room and stay there and search. The weather is getting too cold. I worried he'd freeze."
And then, Vicki got a call and photos sent by text from staff at the Student Health Center. Mr. Peabody had been seen by Dawn Snyders, an administrative assistant there, and identified. He was thin, but he was alive.
Elizabeth Kutz, of Paw Prints on the Heartlands, who had been out looking for Mr. Peabody on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods day after day after seeing Gray's Facebook post, volunteered to foster him until Vicki could arrive.
On Wednesday in Russ Hall, everyone involved got a chance to meet for the first time and see Mr. Peabody reunited with his owner.
"I love your town. I love everybody in your town," Vicki said through tears as she held him. "It warms my heart – these kids from Pittsburg were taking care of him."
Kutz and the others involved refused to accept any reward money, and were thrilled with the outcome.
"It was a team effort," Kutz said. "Everyone was sharing it on social media, talking about it."
Kutz, a PSU alumna, particularly credited PSU students.
"For students to take an interest, to take the flyers and put them up in their dorms, to help look, to share on social media, really says something," she said. "They got into it, they all helped, they were all concerned, they were kind and courteous."
"I think that's the biggest thing, that random animal lovers all came together to help a stranger we didn't know from Adam find her animal, because we knew how important it was to her," Kutz said. "This was a story of strangers helping strangers, especially meaningful at Chrismastime."
After claiming Mr. Peabody in Russ Hall, Vicki took him to the Student Health Center to say thanks to the staff there. She visited with them about making a financial donation to an organization that will benefit as many students as possible, and will work with them in coming weeks to make that happen. Kutz, who accompanied her to the Student Health Center, said she also made a generous donation to the SEK Humane Society.
"I absolutely adore your town – I'm so grateful," Vicki said. "I just can't say that enough."
Mr. Peabody, meanwhile, left campus on Dec. 6 with a bit of Pitt State swag in a bright red bag, with even a little something for Recee tucked in.
And Vicki and Kutz?
"We're heading to Barto's so she can eat some fried chicken," Kutz said with a laugh. "I've made a new friend."