(From Northwest Missouri State News Services)
MARYVILLE, Mo. – The story of Bella, aka Highway Kitty, and her rescue by a North Kansas City police officer has become something of an internet sensation in recent days, and she’s providing a Northwest Missouri State University student with a purr-fect opportunity to practice his public relations skills.
The backstory and its accompanying video are widely accessible by searching the internet or your favorite social media platform, but here’s a quick summary:North Kansas City Police Officer Jason Smith took a midday call from a dispatcher on Dec. 20 about a stranded cat along I-29 in Kansas City and spotted the three-month old kitten perched on a highway median. He parked his patrol car in an effort to slow passingcars and not scare the animal into the traffic. And with a calming call of “Hey, kitty, kitty, kitty,” he scooped up the meowing kitten and carried it to the safe haven of his vehicle.
“The cat was instantly super grateful, purring super loudly and wrapping up around his neck,” Joshua Smith, a senior public relations major at Northwest, said. “She would not leave my dad alone.”
Joshua’s dad felt an instant connection with that cat and knew he had to bring it home to his family. After a required visit to a local vet for a checkup and a waiting period for anyone to claim the lost cat, the newly named Bella went home with the Smiths on Dec. 27. The family also has two rescue dogs and a cat. “We brought her home and she’s been a super lovey cat ever since,” Joshua said.
Soon after Bella’s arrival, Joshua’s mother launched an Instagram account, @HighwayKitty, to document her growth and development. Joshua took charge of it, applying his knowledge in public relations and search engine optimization while coming up with creative photo captions from Bella’s perspective. He also is practicing his press release writing skills and ability to engage with news media.
“We were only expecting maybe 100 people to follow, including family,” Joshua said. But when a Kansas City news station mentioned the Instagram account while reporting about the rescue, Bella’s followers swelled. “Instantly, we got about 300 or 400 followers off of that and people swarming us with comments and direct messages.”
Now more than 3,200 users are following the account. Officer Jason Smith’s body camera video of the rescue has been viewed millions of times, and the story has been featured by national news networks and outlets such as “Good Morning America,” “Inside Edition” and “HuffPost” as well as others across the globe.
In addition to sharing Bella’s growth, Joshua says the family intends to use the platform to raise awareness for rescue and shelter animals and raise funds for their favorite local shelter, KC Pet Project. Smith also has engaged with users by asking them to share their rescue stories.
“I really think back to my social media strategies class with Joy Daggs,” he said. “I remember learning about the fact that you want to keep stuff interactive. You want to keep stuff fresh, and coming up with a theme that works. I’ve learned a lot at Northwest and developed skills in storytelling as well as social media skills.”
Joshua said he chose to enroll at Northwest because it was more affordable than other universities he was considering. It also offered numerous opportunities for him to be successful, and he appreciated the feel of the campus.
“Coming to campus, I thought it was absolutely beautiful,” he said. “Plus, it was the fact that it wasn’t too big of a school and not too little of a school, and I love how close-knit everything feels and how connected you can feel with not only the people at the school but the buildings. You kind of build an emotional connection with some of the buildings. Wells Hall is my home.”
Joshua landed an internship with Worlds of Fun in Kansas City after his sophomore year at Northwest and turned it into part-time work as a public relations specialist. During the last year and a half, he has assisted Worlds of Fun with managing its social media platforms and content writing as well as capturing and editing photos and video for the park.
Joshua is on track to complete his bachelor’s degree this spring and hopes to find a career as public relations manager or social media manager in the sports or entertainment fields.