‘Catman’ is a hero for homeless felines

Catman holding an orange tabby cat
A northern California husband-wife team is a shining example of how people can step up to help animals in their own communities.
By John Polis

“Catman” Joe Perry and his wife, Cookie, have no idea how many lost, hungry, distressed cats have wandered up to their modest home at the end of the block in Clovis, California. The gray, remodeled house with the black roof stands out for its modern design, and over the past 20 years, word has undoubtedly gotten out among felines in the area: “That’s where Catman lives.”

“Before I could even walk, I liked cats,” says Joe, a 43-year-old mortgage broker and physical fitness buff. “One day when I was 12, I found some kittens in a box by the road and adopted two of them.”

That’s how it all started. Then, over the past two decades, Joe and Cookie have become heroes to cats of all sizes, shapes and backgrounds, and they have become especially knowledgeable about the mysterious and captivating character of the feline species.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you how many cats we’ve helped over the years,” says Joe. “We truly love being able to help, and we’ve made it one of our neighborhood missions to provide aid to any and all injured and abandoned cats.”

Cookie, too, has loved cats since she was a kid. She and Joe are self-motivated and use their own money to buy the supplies necessary to care for their community cats. “We haven’t been blessed with children, so our cats complete our family,” Joe says.

Their work is well known among their neighbors. Jackie Dick, a local animal welfare volunteer who’s known the Perrys for 23 years, says the couple is all in on cat care. “They could have moved into some posh neighborhood a long time ago, but instead they remodeled and bought the place next door, so they’d have the freedom to take care of their cats.”

Jackie loans her traps to Joe, so he can humanely catch community cats and get them spayed or neutered and vaccinated. He works with a local vet and pays for the surgeries himself. “The (trap-neuter-vaccinate-return) world is not for the faint of heart,” says Jackie. “And Joe does everything he can to provide care and keep the neighborhood kitten-free.”

Serving the neighborhood

The need for spay/neuter has driven much of the Perrys’ work. “We live in a lower-income area where people don’t necessarily spay or neuter their animals,” says Joe. “We started taking in strays, getting them their shots and then gradually doing more. Fast-forward to COVID-19, and from the beginning of November through December of 2021, we caught and took care of 12 cats. I suppose we’ve cared for north of 40 cats in the past 20 years.”

Joe and Cookie’s halfway house for kitties is always jumping with activity. Homeless, abandoned, injured or just curious about the food at Catman's place, they are all welcome. Some get healthy and move on while others stick around. "Let’s just say we keep Chewy.com busy with plenty of business,” Joe says.

[Labor of love: serving pets and people]

Currently, the Perrys take care of 19 cats on a daily basis: Five are 100% indoor cats, four are indoor-outdoor, and the rest, Joe says, have no interest in coming inside. “They stay in the backyard, some under the bushes,” he says. “They all have names and they all know my voice, but some of them I’ve never been able to pet.”

Catman’s permanent resident roster includes:

  • Aaron
  • Auntie
  • Cedric
  • Edwin
  • Eric
  • Frederick von Katt
  • Kevin
  • Louise (aka Weezy)
  • Marie (aka Piggy)
  • Monte Clouseau (aka MINI)
  • Olaf Samuel
  • Patrick Willis (@therealpatrickwillisperry)
  • Rick
  • Sebastian (aka Tebby)
  • Stripe-Stripe
  • Tebby #2 (who looks just like Tebby)
  • Thaddeus Christopher (aka Mr. Poo)
  • Walter J. Mittens
  • White Tip

Showing up, setting down roots

Cedric’s story is typical of the wayward kitties who’ve found their way to Catman. “When he showed up (in early 2021), he was a sad sight,” says Joe. “He was emaciated, terrified of street life, missing most of his hair and covered with scars and scabs. You could tell he wanted to be loved and be part of a family, but (his time on the streets) had made him super sketchy.”

Cedric hid in the bushes for a week before he began to interact with the other cats. “He finally let me pet him, but as he let me get close, he hunkered close to the ground, visibly shaking and tightly closing his eyes. He didn’t know what was going to happen.”

These days Cedric has decided he’s an indoor cat, and Joe says they are permanent best friends. “He’s now a chunky little man who, most of the time, is on top of me purring away and sometimes happily drooling. When I hop into bed he immediately follows, curls up on my shoulder, puts his cheek next to mine and immediately falls asleep. And when he purrs, it sounds like he’s blowing bubbles, followed by a funny nose whistle — one of my best kitty sounds.”

Sebastian has a similar story to Cedric. He showed up in 2019 and hid in the bushes around the house, peering through leaves for a month and quietly observing how Catman treated the others. “Then one day he stepped out of the bushes, walked right over to me and let me pick him up. He’s been a fantastic snuggle buddy ever since.”

Fred, the cat who needed a knee replacement

Upon returning from a trip, the Perrys noticed that Fred, one of the four kittens they had been taking care of, was having difficulty walking and also had a “large, weird scab between his shoulder blades.” He could only take two or three steps before having to curl up into a ball.

Fred was treated for a sprain, but despite numerous trips to the vet and painkilling meds, he didn’t improve. X-rays showed that the scab was from a pellet gunshot wound. And Fred also had torn tendons in his rear right leg. While amputation was an option, Joe and Cookie found a surgeon who could do a total knee replacement, a procedure normally only done on dogs.

It took five months of dedicated care, and Joe often took time off work to get Fred in to see the vet. It was a funny conversation telling his boss that he needed time off for his cat to get laser therapy on his knee. “We call him Mr. Bionic now,” says Joe. “He’s an all-indoor cat who sleeps on my head every night.”

And sometimes cats move on

Residency at Catman’s house is temporary for some. Such was the case with Pascal, whom Joe spotted one morning as he was leaving for his workout. Dragging a broken leg behind him down the sidewalk, Pascal inched his way toward the house. When Joe picked him up, Pascal silently collapsed in the arms of his rescuer, who immediately rushed him to the vet to have his leg reset.

“I spent the next couple of weeks in the garage on a sleeping bag with him because he didn’t want to come inside,” says Joe. “As he recuperated, he constantly gave me head-boinks. Then one day he was fully healed, and he decided to move on.”

[5 men making a difference for homeless pets]

“When I worked at a bank years ago, I would help trap cats in the parking lot,” he says. “I worked with the security guards and the staff in one of the other buildings, so people knew what I was up to. We were able to trap seven of them, get them fixed and adopted. That was cool.”

Joe and Cookie know every single cat who comes into the neighborhood, as well as their spay/neuter status. And if they don’t have names, they soon get them.

The time and money spent on taking care of cats have been considerable for the Perrys, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Yes, I know being a cat guy can seem kinda weird to some people,” says Joe. “But I love ’em and fully embrace my passion for them. It’s part of our lives, and I look forward to it every day.”