Sheri Samson Smokey Joe relaxes at his home in the JPO building.

Sheri Samson
Smokey Joe relaxes at his home in the JPO building.

As many cat lovers can attest to, a wandering kitten can be known for picking its own home. They show up, sniffing around, then progress into nestling into someone’s heart and before you know it the cat lives at your home – or your facility in this case.

Appropriately named Smokey Joe, this unique cat belongs to everyone and no one in particular. He was born at the old JPO (Juvenile Probation Office) parking lot, in a litter of kittens that slowly began missing, including the mother cat. But this single grey kitten survived the outdoor risks by venturing into the JPO building at each opportunity. At first it was a quick, sneaky run inside, but soon it was the workers that seemed to accommodate the abandoned, youngster cat.

“At that time we had a night crew working when the juvenile kids were housed here full time. We didn’t realize the staff began to feed the cat, using their own money. By welcoming the kitten in, it gradually became a bunk mate with the kids during the night, wandering the hallways while searching out a soft spot. So early on, and without training, you could say that Smokey was beginning a career as a therapy cat,” shared Curtis Schlepp , currently the Mineral County Chief Probation Officer. By the time all the facts unraveled, Smokey the kitten had already taken up permanent residency in the building.

Schlepp confessed there were many discussions and concerns for the cat. The question of maintaining a healthy structure for him was the biggest conversation, so the staff made two attempts by adopting him and taking him to their homes.

“The first home was clear on the other side of town. We hated to see him go, but we felt he’d find a home setting comfortable. We were wrong. The first time Smokey got out he made his way back to the JPO building. It was pretty amazing, but we tried it a second time with a different family, even further away, but within a day Smokey was standing at the front door of the building wanting to enter back into his home.”

Realizing the cat could have value in the building, not only as a therapy animal but also in keeping rodents and lizards out, a plan was derived. The employees committed to personally maintaining his dietary needs and vet bills out of their own pocket. Then the employees created a schedule which included weekend and holiday rotation to see him and check in on those days. Schlepp invested his own money in building him a private cat pole and providing a bed for him. Smokey Joe became everyone’s cat, enjoying the paper files as an occasional napping place.

And so, if you attend a Boy Scout meeting in the gym, you too could meet Smokey as he weaves in between friendly visitors. He seems to be discreet enough to only approach the cat lovers should he decide to greet you up close. He keeps company with the small staff left at the old JPO building and according to Barbara Owens from Park and Recreation – Smokey is just a cool cat.

“I use him as a therapy cat and some days he’s just a boost to morale. With everyone pitching in, it’s not a cost to the county but rather an asset to the facility. He is definitely a one-of-a-kind, “sensitive to everyone” type of cat. Smokey Joe is a fixture here after all these years. People might not get it, but we do,” Owens said.

Many who have worked in the building know Smokey and fondly refer to him as “one of the guys”. Although he’s never been on payroll, Smokey truly contributes in many ways within the community.