I started Girls and Their Cats on Instagram two years ago as a way to showcase cat ladies in a positive light. These are some of the most heartwarming stories from the series.
Anna Agneta & Captain
“My husband Brian and I used to live in this old loft building in Toronto called The Coffin Factory, that’s what it was before people started living there. It was right next to this abattoir and around it there lived a colony of feral cats. They probably thrived from the waste of the pigs slaughtered there. They all looked tough as hell. Our dog wouldn’t even go near them.
One day my friend Agi and her boyfriend at the time had a new cat mom and her kittens arrive on their doorstep. A friend of theirs had found her and dropped her off. She was no doubt from the colony, a beautiful pale grey calico with exotic light green eyes and orange ringlets on her tail. They named her Nala.
When the kittens were ready to find new homes, we thought we’d go take a look. I remember going down through the maze-like hallways of The Coffin Factory to her unit. There were 6 kittens and they were all nuts, one climbing on something, a couple napping on the couch, another chasing a toy across the floor, they were everywhere. I wasn’t sure if we should get a cat since we travel and move around a lot, but Brian said “Of course we’ll take one of the kittens, we’ll make it work!” Ok, we’re getting a kitten.
I’m not sure which came first, his boss-like swagger or his name, Captain. Probably his name but he grew into it so well I can’t imagine him as anything else. He’s always liked to ride around on our shoulders, I think it comes from his nature of liking to be up high and perhaps escape our overly affectionate dog when he was too small to ward her off.
He’s a cat and can’t help but do cat-like things, like wake us up when be wants food, showing a certain remorselessness when he chews on expensive computer cords, but behind those things there’s something of higher being capable of great love and affection. Anyone who spends enough time with him falls completely in love. He tends to really affect people and share special moments with them. I feel very lucky that I get to be his cat mama.”
Anna Agneta is a model and musician. She plays guitar in a Canadian indie rock band called Dusted.
Christene Barberich & Phoebe
“Two years ago, on New Year’s day, I was finishing up my usual annual ritual—bringing my journal with me from the previous year to a special place and taking stock of all the highlights and accomplishments of the year past. This time around, I chose the Mondrian hotel. And as I sat there detailing the events of the year, I began to feel very low, reflecting on another year gone by that I hadn’t had a child. Not that I hadn’t tried—I had and failed a few more miserable times. Amid all the wonderful things blossoming in my life, that one enduring defeat never seemed to stop lingering, casting a shadow over every small happiness. But, always, on this day for the past four years that we’d been trying, it hurt the most.
On the way home from my ritual, I passed an animal hospital in my neighborhood. I saw a fluffy, white cat named Chalky in the window up for adoption, and went inside. I asked to meet Chalky, without even checking in with my husband about the prospect of fostering him. The attendant seemed delighted by my interest, but kept suggesting I meet another cat instead. Her name was Cora and she was deemed “special needs” because she’d lost her leg in a car accident the year prior. For some reason, I felt determined it was Chalky who should come home with us that day, but it was my husband who insisted we meet Cora since she’d been bounced around in foster care for months. About a half-hour later, my husband met me there. I was in kind of a daze, and didn’t even know what I was doing, but felt strangely guided to do it anyway.
They took us into a small visitor’s room where they do potential pet-parent meet-and-greets. A few moments later, the door cracked open, and in popped this tiny, tiger-striped head—her bigs eyes were so wide and curious. She was so small but so elegant. She hopped in and I watched her look up at both of us, pensively, and then curl around Kevin’s ankle. He scooped her up with one hand and just looked at me, like, “Let’s get out of here.” And that was it. We brought her home. She hid out in her furry little cat house that she’d lived in at the shelter, until she gradually got used to roaming the apartment and finding new spots to claim as her own. It’s obvious she’s deeply devoted to Kevin, likes to hide around corners and pounce on his feet and ankles. But with me, she’s more soulful and sturdy. She sleeps between my legs and then, at some point during the night, she sneaks up alongside my chest and purrs until we both fall asleep again.
I still don’t have a baby of my own. But Phoebe reminded me of how good it feels to love something, to really care for it and need that simple love in return. To feel like destiny had intervened and she had found her rightful home, too. Phoebe taught me it wasn’t all my fault that I couldn’t have a baby, and helped me find the courage to write about what all that loss was like in an essay on the website I co-founded,@Refinery29. The constant love and presence of a soul like Phoebe, reminded me that life does go on. That through heartbreak and failure and so much regret, comes other kinds of love and nurturing that you’re not always expecting, but that feeds you just the same. Very simply, Phoebe opened my heart again. And, she made me believe in myself, too, maybe in a way I never had before. “
Christene is the co-founder of Refinery29.
Simone Thompson & Nigel
“It was the brutal winter of 2015 & as I sat in my poorly heated Flatbush apartment my girlfriend presented me with a tiny, scrappy little black kitten by the name of Nigel. Nigel was big enough to fit in the palm of my hand and street smart enough to be unmistakably feral. He possessed a spastic quality and had been a rescue from East NY. Having previously sustained a head injury, he has a permanent head tilt which gives him the appearance of a cat that’s constantly questioning authority. He loved to scratch, bite and took joy in breaking everything within site.
The adjustment period was admittedly tough. As a self pro-claimed cat lady I had a hard time warming up to him. He rarely was calm & antagonized me whenever he could. My girlfriend & I even began to fight because she accused me of not “loving our child.” After a few months though it all changed. We moved to Bedstuy & the change in scenery brought a new, less manic Nigel. His catastrophic kitten stage was finally over. He still bites but gives me cuddles.. sometimes. Most days he watches TV with me & I spend a lot of time asking him important life questions that go unanswered. He’s proved himself to be our difficult but loving child that my partner & I adore.”
Athena Wisotsky & Frikki
“I’ve wanted a cat of my own for so long, but I’ve moved a lot the last three years and there was always something in the way. I never felt settled enough, or the apartment was too small, or my housemates weren’t on board. I have three bodega cats I visit as often as I can, but it’s not the same as coming home to a little creature of my own.
When my mother Donna passed away suddenly last month, I had the responsibility to re-home her cats in the middle of everything else that was going on. She had five! Two ladies that we got when I was in high school, and three siblings from one of them. They were her joy and companions, and it was so important to me to find safe and stable homes for them. She would always send me photos of them curled in her lap, or hamming it up, and tell me whatever antics they were getting up to. We joked that she would have to mail one to NYC. When she passed away, it felt like the right thing to do to adopt one of them.
We didn’t choose Frikki at first. Her brother is a lot more social, happy and almost comically beautiful. But I realized that with her skittish temperament, she’d need a lot of patience and love. And my decidedly not-a-cat-person boyfriend Max even took to her right away (it was her giant cartoon eyes), so little Frik flew with us from Oregon to New York. It’s been less than a month but she’s warming up a lot, and so is the household. Max initially didn’t want her on the bed, but he caved within 3 days when he realized the power of a cat snug. I’ll often catch them cuddling in bed, and he will text me “How are my girls?” if I am working at home — sometimes with her in my lap. They have bonded already and it warms my heart.
This isn’t the way I ever imagined getting my first cat, but having her around has been a major comfort in my grief. Sometimes I just sit and pet her and imagine my mom doing the same thing just a month ago. She’s a living piece of my mother’s life, I’m so happy to have her in my home.”
Athena Wisotsky is a writer, editor and artist living in Brooklyn.
Jess Peterson & Oscar
“I got Oscar as a kitten from a craigslist ad. Not knowing at the time that there was a reason they put him on craigslist. He was a giant. He is now full grown at a lean 30lbs. (every doctor who has seen him claims he is the largest cat they have ever seen)
Well, as most people would know, Giants tend to have bone issues. So, when Oscar was about 3 or 4 he started limping. his bones were all out of wack and eventually we discovered he had a luxating patella, which is common in dog breeds. Debating for a long time about surgery and success rates I was eventually talked into it by my cousin who is an orthopedic vet surgeon. She said it was a routine procedure and she’s done hundreds of them, and with his specific grade of luxation it was supposed to be no problem. One and done.
It wasn’t. He ended up having 4 surgeries last year. It’s a lot to get into with each specific surgery that happened. It brings me to tears just thinking about it. It was the most difficult thing I have gone through in caring for another animal/being thus far in my life. It would have been impossible without the help of family and friends (most definitely my cousin and her hospital staff at Cornell Vet Specialist in Stamford). He became their favorite patient. With all the complications he actually ended up living at the hospital getting constant care for one month on two separate occasions. He even had acupuncture 3 times a week. I’ve never even had acupuncture.
It was almost impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel at many points. On the day he had a successful x-ray – after the 4th surgery – it was the best feeling. I made him a hat for that day, a kitten cake, tons of cat nip and had some champagne.
He just celebrated his 7th birthday. He has touched many lives. Mostly mine.”
Jess is jewelry designer and painter living in greenpoint.
Ashley Meyers & Oliver
“One evening about a year ago I was walking with some friends in Brooklyn heading to some get-together, when this little peanut ran up to us out of nowhere meowing purrrfusly while staring into my soul. I was apparently born with the gift of an aura that attracts kitty cats where ever I go. This little guy seemed ravenous with hunger. (Which I know now is just his personality) with no nearby homes in site and doors to knock on to see if he belonged to anyone, I decided it was best to just care for him until we figured something out. He was social and friendly but seemed to be on the streets for a while, as he was dirty and had a little ear wound. I asked the others if they would mind if he came along and they were more than happy to include him. We stopped at an open market on the way and fed him a couple cans. We proceeded to head to our destination with a new guest in our arms as if he had been our friend all along.
I had just taken in my little furball Isabella. (Not pictured because she is afraid of anyone but me and missed her opportunity to have amazing photos in her new little hat that her mommy made her). Also, I wasn’t allowed to have any pets in this apartment and my roommate at the time wouldn’t have been happy with another cat. So, my compassionate friend who bonded with him that very evening, took him in for about a week while we figured it out. My friend kept him until he had to leave for tour with his band the Mystery Lights, so his gf, took him in until she wasn’t able to keep him anymore either, despite falling in love with him as everyone did along the way. So, I took him and the rest was history.
After falling in love with my last roommates cat in my previous apt I was scared to get attached to another kitty cat again, but in reality, it wasn’t much of a life without a furbaby around. Oliver keeps me laughing all day every day. He is the biggest ham you will ever meet. I call him a little space cat. He has these enormous intense eyes that never seem to blink and he’s either sitting around on the couch like a human on his butt with his legs out or against a wall on his back with all fours up in the air. He also LOVES wearing clothes. Hats not so much. Everyone that meets him becomes a fan. Oliver and his older yet tinier sister love to chase each other like hyenas in the jungle and kiss and bathe each other like little heavenly angels. Watching them be mushy together is the most heartwarming, peaceful and precious thing to witness. They also couldn’t be any more different from each other. Both in size and personality. They are total opposites, which make quite the comical team. Isabella is the cuddliest sweetest little peanut but too afraid to be held which would drive me crazy, but Oliver makes up for that part. I love picking up his big chubby body and carrying him around like a baby. They make me so happy. A home without a mushball is no sweet home at all.”
Ashley Meyers is a NJ native currently living in Brooklyn and working as a freelance makeup artist.
Chelsea Trout & Mushu
“I began fostering with the NYCACC in the beginning of 2014. It was my junior year in college, and I felt simultaneously compelled to begin volunteering again and severe separation anxiety from having a pet. It was a fairly quick progression into fostering kittens for me. I started fostering 1-2 kittens every few months, and quickly escalated to 2-3 on rotation — as soon as one set would leave, I’d ask to foster another.
Fast-forward two years and about 30 kittens later, I found myself living with my boyfriend in our first apartment. It took a little persuading to get him fully onboard with my obsession. Almost a year into our lease, I accepted a request to foster two “singletons,” (the name they used for any young kittens that were without a litter). One, Reed, was an adorable little fluffball only about 5 weeks old. The other, Alipha, was a bit older, at maybe 9 weeks, and reportedly needed a little more socialization to get over her shyness. I looked at Alipha as my personal challenge, because I took pride in taking foster kittens in and sending them back to the shelter as extremely people-friendly and of healthy weight.
In the first couple weeks of our time with Reed and Alipha, we saw little improvement in Alipha’s temperament (this would become a trend in our time with her). Reed, however, was just as bubbly and inquisitive as could be. I also began to notice that he really enjoyed being in my presence. If I was cooking or doing the dishes in the kitchen, I would find him directly next to me sprawled out and leisurely flipping his tail around. When I’d use the bathroom, he’d mosey on in and plop himself right on the floor in front of me — waiting patiently. There was something special about our connection that stood out from all of my past fosters. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was there.
I eventually found myself giving the shelter excuses as to why it was too soon to send them back to the shelter to be taken to adoption events. “I don’t think Alipha has had enough time to fully get past her shyness,” I’d tell the foster coordinators. Meanwhile, Alipha turned out to be a cat that would not soon grow out of her habits. But I simply couldn’t part with Reed — who we had begun calling Mushu. I don’t remember the exact moment it was decided, but I woke up one day knowing I wasn’t sending Mushu to any adoption events.
It was July 31, 2016 when the adoption was finalized. Mushu is still the greatest companion and friend I have ever known. As I type this, he’s sleeping on his little scratch pad directly in front of me, because even though he’s not the biggest cuddler he always wants to be within eyesight. He’s extremely verbal and even talks back when you ask him questions! He’s water-obsessed and will sit perched on the kitchen sink waiting for water to come out of the faucet. He welcomes people at the door, and has such a distinct personality that friends have often said he’s “not like other cats” they’ve met. He’s unbelievably inquisitive, and doesn’t shy away from getting in your face for a sniff. Though it’s been only a year with Mushu, it feels like I’ve known him a lifetime.”
Chelsea Trout is a New Yorker born and raised, and has been living in Brooklyn for the last four years. She founded a women’s discussion group called Nasty Women’s Retreat that motivates and inspires her endlessly.
Maggie Freleng, Bandit & Daisy
“I went to the shelter looking for a kitten. I’ve never had a kitten because I always take in older rescues so it was time to treat myself. But when I went to the shelter I found Bandit, a 6-month-old blind cat, the shelter worker said had been there for months. No one wanted him. It broke my heart and even though I was looking for a kitten I took him. I couldn’t imagine life without him. He melts my heart every day sometimes I cry I’m so happy we found each other and people passed him up because he’s blind. He is the most special boy in the world. He can’t see but he knows his mom. As soon as I pick him up he collapses in my arms purring, and always finds his way to nestle in my arms at night.
I got Daisy when she was about 4. I was living in a farm community in Massachusetts and she was a friend’s mom’s cat. The mom just got a divorce and she couldn’t keep Daisy, or her companion Scuter, anymore. So, I took them both to avoid them going to a shelter. It was just a few months after my childhood cat Lou died at 16. Daisy had a great life living outside hunting squirrels and birds in Massachusetts. She would literally swallow them whole! (it was sad and impressive) Eventually she went to the vet where they informed me she has FIV. I was devastated. I didn’t know what this meant. I met with experts at the vet and joined community boards and it turns out that Daisy will live a fairly normal life, but she has to be an inside cat to avoid injury and transmission. It was a long hard adjustment for us. Every day she would cry and scratch at the window screens and try to sneak out. Eventually after moving back to NYC she has gotten used to her simple life playing with fake mice and laser pointers. She has been living with FIV for 7 years now and all her tests come back great. She is the best cat, and my best friend. She has been through everything with me. 10 moves, multiple partners, breakups, deaths. I couldn’t imagine life without her. Although I am starting to think more about it because she is about 11 and I know the time will come sooner than later.”
Maggie Freleng is a journalist and audio producer who works from home and is obsessed with her cats.
Naomi Fry, Nina, Roo & Matilda
“Our cats, Roo and Matilda, are both very good girls, but they’re also two very different types. Roo is a large tabby. People always think she’s a man and I always get a little offended for her. She looks very dependable — she has the face of someone you’d ask to watch your laptop for you if you needed to use the bathroom at a cafe. Her body type often reminds me of the bowling bags Prada used to do; I can almost imagine attaching a shoulder strap to her and tucking her snugly under my arm. She’s six years old, and we adopted her when she was one. Nina, our daughter, was also one at the time, so they’ve been growing up together. In fact, she got her name because “roo” was Nina’s approximation of a cat’s meow when she tried to communicate with her initially. (Her original name at the shelter we got her from was Circus (!)) Probably the best part about having Roo as a cat is that she likes to sleep between me and my husband’s heads, and I often drift off with one palm underneath her, one over: a hand sandwich bursting with fuzzy goodness.
Matilda (aka “Tilda” or “Tildy”) is younger and more of a wildcard. She’s slim and sprightly, mostly white with some black markings, and while she’s not exactly “bad,” she turns scratchy occasionally, which Roo never does. She has the personality of an aloof popular girl in a teen movie who you discover mid-plot actually has some problems — like maybe a dead parent or an eating disorder — that make her secretly sensitive. For instance, she can appear prancingly self-sufficient with no interest in spending time on your lap, but then she immediately goes limp and pliant when you pick her up, as if all she was waiting for was for someone to break through her brittle shell and give her the love she was craving. Matilda is about three; when we adopted her a couple of years ago, Roo was initially traumatized and spent the first couple of weeks up on the kitchen cupboards, terrified. For the next few months, every time they’d come face to face, they would paw and hiss at each other. Over time, however, they’ve gotten used to living together. They don’t like to co-snuggle or touch, but even though they’d probably deny it if they could, I think they’re really curious about one another. They love to try and sniff each other’s butts, and you can often find them hanging out together on the bed or the couch with the air of two retirees who’d rather die than exchange a single word, but who have also chosen to share the same bench at the park for the past fifteen years.”
Naomi Fry is a writer living in Brooklyn, and the copy chief at T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
Alvina Bokhari & October
“I met baby October on the eve of my 21st birthday. He was the best birthday surprise! October was found inside a cardboard box behind an office in Long Island. As soon as I held him I was so in love. This is a new experience for me because October is my first pet. I definitely treat him like he’s a new born baby.
I’ve been spending some time researching more about October and cats in general and I’ve found their behavior to be very interesting. I love that when he circles my leg it means he’s leaving his scent on me so other cats know I’m his. He’s very playful and loves to cuddle. We also have so much in common like our nap schedules and the fact that we aren’t too fond of the vacuum. I’m so lucky to come home to the sweetest little guy!”
Alvina Bokhari currently lives in Midtown Manhattan while she attends FIT for fashion business merchandising.
Alexandra King, Lois & Maxine
“Lois and Maxine are 7-year old sisters. My husband adopted them five years ago from a no-kill shelter in Chicago, and named them after local diner waitresses. Even though they were the only kittens in the shelter that day, my husband said that everyone kept stopping to look, then immediately walking past their cage because it was clear they were not “normal” cats.
Which they are not. They both have a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia (sometimes affectionately known as “wobbly cat syndrome”). It’s a brain condition in which some kittens are born with an under developed cerebellum, the part of the brain which governs motor skills. As a result, cats that have CH don’t have great balance or coordination- they walk like little drunks and don’t have that regular cat-like ability to jump.
Though it sounds like a scary thing, it’s a condition that’s non-progressive, non-contagious and too few people know that it results in THE CUTEST KITTIES IN THE WORLD. They don’t do any of the asshole type things normal cats can be prone to, like scratching or biting or leaping on countertops. They’re not very bright, bless them, but they’re obsessed with people. And each other. All they want to do is cuddle. Other than not being the shiniest crayons in the pack, they are physiologically perfect. They don’t require any kind of treatments or meds or pricey trips to the vet. They have a completely normal life span. All you have to do is baby proof the house a bit (sharp corners can be a hazard) and get ready to be adored.
Every morning, I wake up wearing a cat bikini, one snoozing across my chest, one on my hips. Very sadly, many kittens that show signs of CH when they are born are often destroyed, because people think that they won’t get adopted. But they are the best cats in the world! There are a bunch of rescue places on the internet that specialize in CH cat rescue. I can’t recommend enough bringing one of these little weirdos home.”
Alex King is a journalist, writer and blogger. She owns an art gallery in Chinatown with her husband Isaac. She currently works at CNN, but also freelances for The Guardian and Refinery 29 among others.
Paulina Virgen & Schiap
“I met ‘the one’ in Greenpoint at the home of a woman who saved cats from the euthanasia list – her name was Eva. We knew we wanted to rescue and that perhaps we wanted a grey cat. So, I went and met the cats Eva had and fell in love with a little playful Russian Blue. He had been rescued from the streets of Bushwick and was only 2 months old at the time. Spencer (my then boyfriend, now husband) came to meet him and we agreed. This was it. A few days later Eva brought him to our apartment on North 7th and Bedford and we fell in love. Hard love. But we noticed something was different about this cat. Were his eyes a little brighter? Was his face a little rounder? We called but Eva assured us this was “our” cat. Okay, we thought – he’s here and the cutest thing we’ve ever seen. Whoever he is we love him! We named his Schiaparelli after the designer Elsa Schiaparelli. I told Spencer we would either name our future child Schiap or our cat…he could chose. He chose the cat.
A few days went by and Schiap made himself feel at home. He slept on our laundry bags and pawed at our feet as we walked by him. 3 days after we got Schiap I got a phone call from Eva at 9 am – she frantically confirmed our suspicion. She gave us the wrong cat!!! The numbers of the cat we chose and the cat she gave us were just reversed. She apologized profusely and told me she would come by that afternoon to swap the cats out. At that point we had already fallen in love with Schiap and figured it would be awful to send him back. We kept him and we are SO happy we did. He is the most mischievous, vain and sweet cat we’ve ever met.
A few interesting things about Schiap: he pees/poos in the toilet (even covers his poop and pee with toilet paper). He is a world class hunter (birds, mice, rats, cockroaches, worms – you name it, he’s brought it). He wakes me up at least 3 times a week asking to be spooned back to sleep. generally he bites my cheek or chirps until I open my eyes then he crawls beside me and lays on his side. At that point I have to put my arm around him or the bites start! We joke that he’s Mexican like me because he loves beans and avocado.”
Paulina is a fabric r&d manager for Coach.
Dinah Eke & Wolfie
“I walked into the shelter with every intention of bringing home a fat Russian Blue kitty I had seen on their website. Before I had a chance to meet said kitty, the proprietor pulled me aside and asked if I was open to looking at another cat. I assumed she would show me another Russian Blue, but instead she showed me my Wolfie- a feral black cat. He made no eye contact, in fact, he ignored me the whole time. When I reached out to pet him, he skirted to the back of the cage and hissed. I turned to her, I didn’t understand. Then she explained to me that he was wary of people due to being treated badly in the past. As a black cat, he had a higher chance of getting put down than getting adopted. Wolfie was mean as hell and I had no idea if he would take to me, but I couldn’t bare the thought of him getting killed through no fault of his own. So I brought him home. It’s been four years since we met. He is still wary of strangers, but he is the most loving kitty ever! If you are not superstitious and ever have the opportunity to adopt; please give a black kitty a chance.”
Dinah Eke is a lifestyle blogger at deediary.com.