Saving Mr. Peebles
– The Runt of the Litter Turns Out to be the World’s Smallest Cat
During a farm call, vaccinating dogs in Tazewell County, Illinois, Veterinarian Donna Sassman, MU DVM ’95, noticed a fuzzy and awkward kitten. Obviously the runt of the litter, he had to scurry out of the way to keep from being stepped on by his normal-sized siblings.
Dr. Sassman worried that the little guy was too small to compete for food with the other cats. She also envisioned him being swooped up for dinner by the hungry Great Horned Owls living nearby. Not wanting to leave the little gray cat to such fates, she asked the owner if she could keep him. She could—if she could catch him.
Back at her Good Shepherd Veterinary Clinic in Pekin, Ill., Dr. Sassman more closely examined the Tabby and made a discovery. This was no kitten, but a two-year-old fully-grown cat—albeit, a really small cat at 2.8 pounds. Dr. Sassman named him Mr. Peebles, after a ventriloquist’s dummy on an episode of “Seinfeld.”
The malnourished Mr. Peebles needed Dr. Sassman’s help. He had roundworms, earmites, and an upper respiratory infection. After treatment, he gained a whole 0.3 pounds.
Brought back to health, Mr. Peebles, became the clinic’s house cat, jointly tended by the staff. The tiny cat, easily able to fit into a teacup, quickly became a celebrity among clients.
No one could remember a smaller cat. During 2004, Good Shepherd Clinic manager Cathy Smith researched the Guinness Book of World Records—the accepted authority in these matters. No other smaller cat was documented.
Dr. Sassman decided to submit Mr. Peebles. The Guinness application form was 10 pages long with strict examination and verification protocols by at least two veterinarians.
After providing photographic evidence and independently verified measurements, Mr. Peebles’ vital statistics were confirmed at 3.1 pounds, 6.1 inches tall, and 19.2 inches from nose to the tip of his tail. Earlier this summer, Guinness officially presented the “Smallest Living Domestic Cat” World Record to Mr. Peebles, replacing the previous the record holder, Itse Bits, who weighs about 3.3 lbs., depending on whether he had just eaten.
The Guinness Book of Records designation made Mr. Peebles a media phenomenon. The Associated Press picked up the initial local newspaper story and it appeared throughout North America, Europe, South America, and Asia. A TV report bounced off satellites to affiliates around the nation that aired the story. He was featured in a National Geographic children’s magazine, the National Enquirer, and dozens of web pages. He was escorted by Ms. Smith to New York where Mr. Peebles appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America, interviewed by host Diane Sawyer. The segment was cut to about a minute so the network could air breaking coverage of Johnny Carson’s death.
TV shows still contact Dr. Sassman for interviews and visits. Most requests are granted if the programs pay for a caretaker to travel with Mr. Peebles and that he stays overnight in a pet-friendly hotel.
The media attention has waned recently, with reporters going on to bigger stories, leaving Mr. Peebles to hold court in the Good Shepherd Clinic—a place where he knows he’ll never be stepped on by the bigger cats.