Mr. Potts is Found
by BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
I’m a fan of Nextdoor.com, and by “fan,” I mean I like to make fun of it. If you’re not familiar with Nextdoor, it’s a social network built on geographical neighborhoods. People gripe about their missing newspapers; they ask for recommendations for plumbers; they ask, “fireworks or gunshots?” on a daily basis; they are obsessed with “suspicious looking teens” (who are usually wearing hoodies and have a dark complexion). But mostly, Nextdoor is about pets — lost pets, found pets, pet grooming, dogs seen wandering around, parakeets, even.
As a member, I get a daily email from Nextdoor.com that lists all the posts of the day in sequence. I noticed a while back that the random juxtaposition of the post titles form a kind of found poetry, and so I’ve taken to making screen shots of a few of these and putting them on Twitter as “your nextdoor.com moment of zen.”
Last week, I posted this, which I thought had a certain three-act play feel to it:
Mr. Potts is Found!
People tweeted funny remarks. “Was Mr. Potts murdered?” etc. Ha ha. It was just a silly Twitter moment, and I quickly forgot about it. Then, while driving home, I saw a sign on the Eclectic Eye that read “Welcome Home Mr. Potts.” It hit me that maybe there was more to this Mr. Potts saga than I knew. And there was. Much more.
Mr. Potts, a gray, flat-faced 10-year-old feline, wandered off from his Midtown home on December 11th. His owners, Clay and Gracey Smythe, and their children, Stanley, James, and Leo, were devastated. They posted pictures of Mr. Potts around the neighborhood; they posted his mugshot on Nextdoor. No response.
Around Christmas, there was a sighting of a thin, gray cat near Summer and Holmes, miles from Midtown, but it wasn’t Mr. Potts. In early January, a cyclist reported that a dead cat matching Mr. Potts’ description was lying on Cleveland, but it wasn’t him. Over the next few weeks, the Smythes followed up on several tips, but none bore fruit. Mr. Potts, it appeared, was gone. And if he was alive, he was out in some of the coldest January weather Memphis had seen in years, and unlikely to survive. The Smythes offered a $1,000 reward, but still no luck.
In late January, Clay Smythe figured Mr. Potts wasn’t coming back, so he took all of his beloved cat’s food, toys, and kitty litter and left them in front of the House of Mews in Cooper-Young. It was a donation that took a Gift of the Magi twist a couple days later.
On Smythe’s birthday, January 26th, the Cifaldi family, who live near Summer Avenue, posted photos on Nextdoor of a stressed, frail cat they’d found in their garage. A number of people saw the post and immediately notified the Smythes, who scurried over to the Cifaldis’ house, where they encountered a wobbly, emaciated creature curled into a ball. It was Mr. Potts! He recognized his family, gave a cry of recognition, and fell over. They rushed him to the Summer Avenue Emergency Animal Hospital, where he was given fluids and nursed back to the point where he could return home in a few days.
It’s a hell of a story. Mr. Potts survived six weeks of winter weather, wandering countless miles around Memphis, living on God knows what. It’s a story of faith: The Smythes persisted long after most families would have given up. It’s story of a neighborhood, and a community, and good people’s willingness to go the extra mile to save someone’s beloved pet. And it’s a story with a happy ending. Lots of happy endings, really.
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The Cifaldis donated $500 of their reward to an organization that helps rescue animals. There’s a bumper sticker being made that reads, “Mr. Potts is Midtown,” and proceeds from the sale will go to the House of Mews. It’s more like “Midtown is Mr. Potts,” at this point.
Perhaps Gracey Smythe summed it up best in a post on, yes, Nextdoor: “It makes me smile to see how many people care about this. … It shows such beautiful humanity and love!”