This is a story of a community that came together in unprecedented numbers to support one of its own.
This is a story of the way social media can turn strangers into brand new best friends. This is a story about the kindness of neighbors who offer to do what little they can — and collectively make an impact.
And, this story is also about a cat – the now-famous Matt the Cat, who is once again home after being lost for a total of nine weeks.
The story began November 15 when Maire Murphy lost her cat, Matt, when he somehow slipped out the door unnoticed. As soon as she realized he was gone, she posted his photo on the Missouri Lost & Found Paws Facebook page and began a relentless flyer campaign. Eventually, almost every prominent tree trunk, light pole and community bulletin board in the Tower Grove South neighborhood was covered with a full-color photo of Matt on a bright yellow background that was ingeniously hard to miss.
The calls of orange cat sightings came rolling in. Murphy followed every single lead, driving to the location where a Matt lookalike had just been spotted and visiting homes of a few who captured roaming cats for her to examine. Murphy quickly learned there were a lot of orange, fluffy cats out there who looked very similar to Matt, although none of them were Matt.
Neighbors and strangers from afar began posting messages of encouragement.
Local businesses also got involved to help. Hartford Coffee Company offered their space for meetings. A get-together at a local bar was also proposed so that neighbor could meet neighbor outside of social media and build upon the collective effort. Tyler Krings, a bartender at The Night Owl by Tree House created a Matt the Cat cocktail in solidarity, with Old Grand-Dad whiskey, Aperol (a nod to the orange), Big O ginger liquor (a nod to the ginger color) and bitters.
Murphy admits that she did begin to lose hope a few times. But she almost didn’t have a say in the matter anymore. People had fallen in love with Matt the Cat and were bent on finding him. Stories of joyful other pet reunions filled her inbox. She felt buoyed by the community and encouraged to elicit its help with this now very public search indeed. In fact, the search had transformed into a movement and a channel for goodwill almost overnight, uniting strangers altogether in a common mission.
Murphy described it this way on Facebook just a couple of weeks ago:
“Thank you to all who are supporting the Matt the Cat search. It’s not really a story about a lost pet, not anymore. It’s about people coming together to help others for no reason other than good will. I have received over 150 texts, calls, photos, and messages online about sightings and captured cats, and even videos. This does not include the hundreds of supportive comments and suggestions on the Tower Grove South Facebook page, where this whole thing began. Neighbors have put out food, shelters, helped me search alleys and post flyers… It’s not about a cat. The real story is that people are willing to go out of their way to do something good, when they receive nothing in return. It is a STORY ABOUT A COMPASSIONATE NEIGHBORHOOD. It’s cliché, but with all the terrible news stories, we need reminders about the good will human beings have for one another… I hope everyone is very proud of their community — and for those who may be tired of this story, I appreciate your patience and hope that you can see it as a story that is much bigger than a cat, and a story that gives honor to your neighborhood.”
Others were encouraged, too. As someone posted on the Matt the Cat Facebook page, “This is probably the most awesome thing I have seen… We’ve been planning on moving back into the city for some time now… But have had a rough time narrowing our neighborhood search down. Because of Matt the Cat and all the awesome neighbors he has… TGS has moved into the #1 spot…”
Then, just last Thursday, January 21, everything changed.
It started with a photo posted on the Shaw neighborhood’s Nextdoor page of a cat which looked a lot like Matt spotted on the other side of Tower Grove Park.
The photo was quickly reposted on the Tower Grove South Nextdoor and Facebook pages. Before Murphy even got a chance to see it, people began commenting, insisting this cat was Matt. One person remarked that even the freckles on his nose were an exact match. Another created a mashup of the photo from the flyer and the one from the sighting to illustrate the uncanny similarity between the two kitties.
A stranger reached out to Murphy to alert her, and finally, Murphy posted she had seen it and was on her way there. She added that even if it wasn’t him, she would help to find its owners and show it the kindness she hoped someone would also show Matt.
When Murphy arrived, the cat was no longer there, but she decided to put up a few flyers before she left, as she hadn’t put up any of them on that side of the park yet. She stopped a neighbor to hand him one and he remarked that there was, in fact, a similar cat on a porch right then.
They both rushed over and, after a bit of a scramble, caught the cat and put him into Murphy’s car. Even then, she refused to get her hopes up. She had been through this once before — after scanning a cat’s microchip, she’d learned that it wasn’t Matt. This one looked a lot like Matt, but she wasn’t going to celebrate until she was able confirm it.
She immediately called Tina Roe who was at the St. Louis Lost and Found Paws, who had scanned the first cat, and who had already been tipped off by neighborhood resident Jen Bradford via Facebook. Roe agreed to meet Murphy that night.
The next couple of hours can only be described as completely incredible. All relevant neighborhood pages were buzzing with speculation. Bradford’s post on elicited 300 comments, or more: “Can someone with a chip scanner go to Maire’s place and scan this MaybeMatt?!? The suspense is killing me!!!”
More weighted in, exclaiming that they could no longer continue watching their TV shows because they were glued to Facebook. Others poured a glass of wine to calm their nerves and joined the waiting game. People began posting photos of their cats while “waiting” for news of Matt.
The idea of a neighborhood gathering was once gain proposed. Someone demanded there be a Matt the Cat T-shirt. Several seoconded the idea and others proposed their sale could raise funds to help other lost dogs and cats in the neighborhood.
Finally, almost two hours later, Murphy posted a very short message: It was indeed Matt.
That post collected almost 1,000 likes and even more celebratory pet photos. One person posted that just after Murphy published her message, she heard cheers coming from the house just door.
The next day, Murphy posted a thank you. “70 days and 70 nights but the good people of Tower Grove/Shaw didn’t give up!! DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR LOST PET! He was found a half mile away after weeks of torrential rains (the worst flooding in St. Louis in decades) AND snow storms!”
But even that wasn’t the end of it.
In the days that followed, a children’s book was suggested and there was also a call for January 21st to be declared “Matt the Cat Day,” the hashtags #mattitude and #thanksmatt started appearing and a local band traveling in Florida dedicated a song to Matt. Alderwoman Megan Ellyia-Green even introduced Resolution 187 in celebration of “Matt the Cat.”
Earlier this morning, St. Louis Public Radio aired a story by arts and culture reporter Nancy Fowler, who also lives in Tower Grove South. Fowler had actually interviewed Murphy just days before Matt was found after growing intrigued by the overwhelming support she had witnessed on social media.
“I began to realize this was a big deal as the number of comments on social media grew,” Fowler says. “People are really pulling together around this. I haven’t seen anything like this in the community with this sort of groundswell of support. It didn’t begin as a big effort, but grew organically. Even without the happy ending, the story already a good outcome.”
Matt was offered a free spa day from Murphy’s Mutts & Cuts and a free pet photo shoot from Michele Verna Photography. The Purple Martinoffered $5 Manhattans and Old Fashioneds in his honor the next weekend. Someone wrote a song; the owners of Gustine Market posed with a wine toast to Matt. Tower Grove South resident Adam Woehler put up a T-shirt design through Zazzle.
Days later, Roe of St. Louis Lost and Found Paws reflected, “It was totally amazing how Tower Grove came together. I see it a lot in our organization, because that’s our purpose. But to see so many neighbors come together to help one person, one cat – it was astounding.”
For Murphy, all of this was one huge learning experience — in the best sense of the phrase.
“When you stop strangers and ask them something they will often talk back. I had never done that before. People are hungry for connection. It’s really heartwarming,” she says. “We have a wonderful community. One thing I have learned is that we may not all know one another, but we are not strangers.”
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