Percy, the trucker cat: Lost and found
The story of Percy begins, as all great stories do, at a rest stop in Ohio.
Truck driver Paul Robertson, Percy's owner, had pulled in for the night after a bout of food poisoning took him off the road. Hoping to sleep it off, he settled in, his furry friend not far away.
Robertson and Percy had been constant companions in the truck's cab for over a year. The two live in the truck, and have clocked thousands of miles together, after Robertson adopted Percy from a Twin Cities animal rescue. Percy settled right into the trucking life.
"He's just great, he's the calmest," Robertson told MPR News host Tom Weber.
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Robertson even built Percy a platform so he could ride shotgun and look out the window. The orange cat spent many an afternoon basking in the sun on the dashboard, and picking up an internet following. Robertson frequently shared photos of Percy's life on the road on Facebook.
But when Robertson woke up the next morning at the Ohio truck stop, the passenger window was down and Percy was gone.
This had happened before — typically when there was a bird outside. Percy, through either sheer luck or impressive levels of cat ingenuity, would step on the controls and roll his own window down.
Panic set in.
"I don't know if he's been gone five minutes or an hour or three hours," Robertson said. "I do the classic parent thing: I grab the food bag and I went around the truck. Shake, shake, shake. Calling: 'Percy! Percy Wercy!'"
No Percy. Not a meow. Not a peep.
Robertson scoured the rest stop, shaking the bushes and traipsing through scrub. The weather report compounded his fear: A storm was coming. Temperatures were dropping.
Devastated, Robertson went on Facebook. "This day can totally eat it," he wrote. Percy was missing.
"Within minutes, I got texts from Sweden, from Portland, Ore.," Robertson said. With his photography, he'd built a large community around the country and the world, specifically with roller derby players. He loves to photograph the sport.
Suddenly, people were offering to call all the nearby shelters on his behalf, and one person even showed up at the rest stop to help search for the cat.
"If there's ever an opera made of this, this will be one of the better scenes," Robertson said, remembering the first night his cat was missing. He'd searched for hours. The sun had gone down. His friend showed up with a searchlight. "It starts to rain, it's freezing, we're out there soaking wet, beating the bushes, calling 'Percy!'"
But there was nothing. "Absolutely nothing."
After a fitful night of sleep in the truck, Robertson had to move on.
"I'm a commercial truck driver, and I have a truck full of stuff that's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I've signed on a dotted line saying I will have it delivered by such and such a time," he said. "I don't have the choice to stay if I want to."
People assured him they would keep looking. They would put out traps. Percy was chipped. He'd done everything he could.
"I just felt so low," Robertson said of pulling out from the truck stop. He gets choked up even talking about. "I suddenly felt like I was abandoning my child. Man, that really sucked."
On the road, the wind was howling, the rain was unrelenting, and all Robertson could think of was Percy, freezing, alone, at the truck stop.
He made his first delivery without Percy, at a factory. Then he made his second, to a mining plant in Indiana. He'd now driven 400 miles without his cat co-pilot.
In the mining plant yard, he went to get the paperwork for his next run.
"I'm feeling as low as a snail's belly," he said. "I grab the paper, I turned around, and I look. I think: Here's a stray cat coming out from under my truck. ... It doesn't remotely register to me. I'm thinking my cat is 400 miles behind me, dying in the snow."
Then he looked again.
"I suddenly recognize him. He just looks up at me with the big eyes, like: 'Dad?'"
Robertson scooped him up.
"I took him into the truck and we cuddled and snuggled and he was rubbing his face on me," Robertson said. "Oh my gosh, he stunk."
Percy had hidden underneath the cab of Robertson's truck for more than four hundred miles, through the rain and the snow and two deliveries. He reeked of diesel ash. If cats really do have 9 lives, Robertson said, that surely shaved one off for Percy.
His best guess is that Percy found a space on top of the transmission, on the frame or by the fuel tanks.
"He found a spot, wedged himself in, and clearly wasn't coming out for nothing," Robertson said.
That night, just after midnight on February 26, he logged back onto Facebook.
"CALL OFF THE SEARCH!!! PERCY IS OKAY!!!" he wrote. He thanked everyone for their help, and signed off: "This little orange furry soul means the world to me. Thank you for caring about him too."
Watch Paul Robertson and Percy in the MPR News studio
Paul Robertson and Percy joined MPR News host Tom Weber in the studio. See Percy in action: