Knoxville police investigate catnapping of feline friend

Justin Cummings holds his next friend, Lulu. (Photos submitted by Cummings)

When asked to name man’s best four-legged friends, most people would reflexively answer, “That’s easy — dogs.”

Justin Cummings of Knoxville, however, would respectfully disagree.

His closest friend and constant companion is a furry feline named Lulu. 

“She’s my baby,” Cummings said Wednesday. “I would do everything with her. Lulu would come with me to coffee shops wearing a harness and leash.”

Cummings, the principal bassoonist with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, hasn’t seen his best friend since someone apparently took her on the evening of August 9th. 

Per their usual routine, Cummings let the one-year-old cat outside to use the bathroom and play in the front yard of the house they share with a roommate on Berhurst Drive in North Knoxville.

“Normally, she is meowing at the door to come in, or she comes back right away when we call her. She has never left the yard before when we let her out,” Cummings said. 

When Lulu didn’t appear, he spent the night walking around the neighborhood and calling her name. The grey-and-white domestic shorthair, however, was nowhere to be found. 

Lulu was wearing a pink collar with Cummings’s phone number printed on it, so he was hoping for a phone call or text message the following morning. 

As it turned out, he did receive a series of text messages. They just weren’t what the distraught cat owner was hoping to read. 

“Morning y’all. My daughter’s found a cat sleeping on our porch this morning with this phone number on its neck. Today’s my baby girl birthday so we might keep the cat with us,” the first message stated. 

Cummings responded to the message, explaining how Lulu disappeared from his yard and offering to pick her up immediately. 

“We live on Mango St. Don’t know how far is that,” came the reply. 

Cummings then asked if the person he was exchanging texts with was home and explained how worried he had been. 

“On my way to childcare. I work 12 hr shifts in Lenoir City,” was the response. 

Cummings then sent a series of texts imploring the anonymous cat thief to return “my baby.” He asked if they wanted “a reward or what” and pointed out that the local animal shelter would let them adopt a cat for free.

Lulu on her leash at the Duck Pond in Fountain City.

After the final message encouraging the texted to call the animal shelter, Cummings started getting messages saying that the phone number was no longer in service.

He also contacted the Knoxville Police Department, which has opened an investigation into the case of the missing feline.

“This one is kind of an odd deal,” said KPD spokesperson Scott Erland when asked to explain the details of the case.

“The number that sent that text was spoofed, but we have submitted a request through a third-party vendor for information related to the number to attempt to identify who made the call. We have not gotten a response yet to my knowledge, but that is essentially where we are on that and about the extent of what we can do at this point,” Erland said.

“If we are able to identify who made the call, find them in possession of the cat and prove that the cat was stolen, they could potentially be charged with misdemeanor theft,” he continued. “Of course, I know that the primary concern for the family is that the cat is returned to them, the rightful owners.”

Since Lulu’s disappearance, Cummings has knocked on the doors of houses up and down Mango Street, which is only a few blocks from his home. However, none of the people he spoke with admitted to having his cat or seemed to have children.

“Since I know that she’s close by in the neighborhood, I can’t just, like, stop looking for her,” Cummings said.

He has also searched other streets in the Fountain City community, has posted flyers across the area, and has reached out on social media platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor. 

Sadly, there have been no leads. 

“Anyone who’s met Lulu knows she’s basically the sweetest cat ever. I just want her back home safely,” Cummings said. 

In order to get his four-footed friend back, Cummings is offering a $500 reward for her return, no questions asked. He’s asking anyone who knows where Lulu might be to call 865-463-1132.

Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at

Published on August 25, 2022.