Last fall, Chuck and Mikee Hawley were nursing their beloved dog, Jojo, through his final weeks of life. Between his age and illness, they knew the gentle black dog wouldn’t be with them much longer. They were making the most of their time with Jojo, while also thinking about the empty space his death would leave in their home and family.
They had thought about adopting a cat. “Sometimes I’d joke with my granddaughter that we were just going to go out and find a cat,” Chuck Hawley says. “But really, we knew that cats find people. If we waited, a cat would find us.”
But he never could have anticipated the way his next cat would find him. One October morning, Hawley was making his way through rainy commuter traffic on his way from his home in Silverton to his job at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Salem. On the road in front of him, a tiny helpless kitten huddled dangerously close to passing cars. Hawley’s first thought was, why isn’t the kitten moving?
He pulled over to help, and he made a chilling discovery. The kitten was covered in sticky, industrial-type glue. His tail was stuck painfully to his side. His feet were stuck to the pavement. The kitten’s front paws lifted easily from the road. But his hind legs stretched from the strain as his back paws refused to release. “I decided to pick at the edge of the glue,” he remembers, “and that’s how I got him loose. The glue came up from the pavement. We took the glue with us.”
“I’m a surfer. I used to run through crazy what-if scenarios in my head,” Hawley recalls. “I’d think, What if a whale surfaced right below my surfboard and lifted me up? What if that group of mongooses attacked me? I have an imagination. But I never thought, what if I found a kitten glued to the road?”
Hawley, who only had about 100 Facebook friends, posted there about his unusual discovery. Then he called his wife, Mikee, and said he was on his way to the vet’s to have the kitten cared for. Mikee posted on their neighborhood website that Chuck had found a stray kitten glued to the street, and the media caught wind of the story. By the time Chuck and the kitten arrived at the veterinary clinic, TV news reporters were on the phone asking for interviews.
The story of the sticky kitten made international news and swelled Hawley’s Facebook following to 1,700. He received messages from people around the world who said Sticky’s story inspired them to reconnect to lost relatives or offer help to strangers in need.
“I don’t think I did anything different,” Hawley says, remembering how the flood of attention caught him off guard. “All I can think is that the cars in front of me didn’t see him, or they thought he was already dead. Who wouldn’t stop and help? Anyone can do something nice. It’s changed me. It changed my whole outlook on everything.”
It’s changed his family’s life as well. Mikee started a dedicated Facebook page for Sticky. The kitten now has 37,000 followers. Then the couple wondered how they could each help keep the kindness flowing.
Chuck had always wanted to write a children’s book. “I wanted to talk to kids about bullying. That came from a really rough 5th grade year I had. I always wanted to go talk to kids about things like that. But,” he laughs, “it turns out they won’t just let any guy roll into the school and talk to your kids about stuff.” He realized that Sticky and his story could help spread the message of kindness in a uniquely kid-friendly way. Hawley – a facilities maintenance coordinator at the Kroc Center – penned an inspiring children’s book in under two months. An artist friend illustrated it.
Mikee realized she could use her background in nonprofit management and accounting. “A friend had started a fundraiser to help pay for Jojo’s treatment,” she recalls. When they finally said goodbye to their beloved black dog in November, the donations were still coming in because of the excitement over Sticky.
Thanks to the helpless kitten and his unlikely rescue, Chuck Hawley is now a published author and motivational speaker. Mikee Hawley commutes to her accounting job in Portland every day and returns to Silverton in the evening to fill orders for Sticky t-shirts and hats and – appropriately enough – sticky notes. Every penny goes into a nonprofit fund. “It really started off just promoting random acts of kindness. Then I wanted to help low-income families pay for spay and neuter surgeries for their pets,” she says. They’ve sent pet food and kitten formula to individuals and rescue organizations. “As long as it’s doing good, we’ll just keep doing that.”
It’s now a ministry of sorts, carried out by unlikely ministers. “My boss is a pastor. He calls me a spiritual mutt,” Chuck jokes. The couple who practice no formal religion saw an opportunity to spread the universal message of all religions. “We really want to spread kindness. That’s our religion. Just be nice. Just take care of each other,” Mikee adds.
Sticky seems unaffected by his frequent public appearances and the charitable foundation that bears his name. He naps with the family’s newly adopted black dog, and in the evening he pounces on the boxes and packing materials while his parents prepare shipments of Sticky merchandise.
They planned none of it, but they want to keep it going as long as possible. “Like my grandma used to say,” Chuck adds, “’I guess you’re buying your angel wings.’”