Cat Scratch Fever: Inside the World of the Cat-People of Brooklyn

c/o @BodegaCatsOfInstagram

Brooklyn has a case of cat fever, and it’s not getting cured anytime soon. There’s cat art, cat performances, self-proclaimed cat ladies, cat-themed merchandise, and hundreds of Instagram cat photos featuring our beloved bodega cats doing everything from sitting on the register to sunning themselves on cases of bottled water to just sleeping all over the place. And, to be honest, I double tap each photo. What’s not to like? (Unless you’re a dog lover.) Recently, we took a deep dive into all of the cat mania that’s been sweeping the borough.

Neon Bodega Cats c/o Kaitlin O'Connor

Neon Bodega Cats: These neon bodega cats have been spotted on T-shirts all over the place this summer, and the artist behind them, Brooklyn-based Kaitlin O’Connor, tells me that she’s “at the point where I have to make some decisions.” Since the “shirts and coloring books are picking up,” she explains, “I have to find a way to make them affordable and not so time consuming.” Right now, O’Connor works with Greenpoint Gallery to screen print the t-shirts in small batches and hand-makes the posters, stickers, and coloring books.

Inspiration for O’Connor’s work comes from a stray found in the subway during her eight-year stint in Barcelona. She named her Pila (Spanish for “battery”), and went through tons of government red tape to bring Pila with her to New York. “My cat is gray completely, but she thinks she’s the jungle tiger,” says O’Connor, “so I started making Neon Pila.”

And, why does she love cats? “They’re the perfect companion,” says O’Connor. “They’re the perfect size. They have the perfect temperament. Watching, them—they’re mini tigers. They have this pure instinct. They’re amazing.”

c/o @AcroCats Instagram

The Amazing Acro-Cats: Today’s domestic cats are descended from African wildcats, which humans started keeping around because the cats were adroit at killing small pests. One thing led to another and now, ten thousand years later, a 14-cat circus performs in Bushwick. The cat performers—adorably named Buggles, Pudge, Tuna, and Alley, among others—are trained to do things like ride skateboards, push a shopping cart across the stage, ring cowbells, leap through hoops, and walk across a tightrope.

“Dogs can be trained by tossing them tennis balls because they’re suckers,” said Samantha Martin, the cats’ trainer (who also doubles as the ringleader during the performance). “Cats have to be paid.” The one-hour long show ends with a performance by the Rock Cats, a six-piece cat band that plays their hearts out (sometimes, when they feel like it). As of today, the cats are back on the road in a specially designed cat bus, but will be making an appearance in Rochester in September.

21″ x 21″ spray paint & acrylic on panel (2015) c/o Scott Chasse

OMGWebcats: The Internet is awash in cat photos, cat memes, and viral cat videos. From this sea of cat, one feline has managed to emerge as the most famous Internet cat celebrity of our time—Grumpy Cat (although Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat come close). What does this mean for our society? “I had been working on a ‘cat blog’ as a conceptual art piece,” explains Scott Chasse, “thinking about how mundane and non-informational some of the Internet is.”

Chasse is the owner of two cats, Malakai and Liesl, and has a Greenpoint gallery named Calico—after the color pattern on the fur of certain cat breeds. Three years ago, he decided to bring the blog to real life, drawing and painting “in the form of digital sketches of cats, riffing on ‘memes’ while drawing the text from my daily internet consumption, then dumping these drawings back into the Internet via social media.” Chasse’s most recent work is eye-catching, colorful, and funny—there’s cats leaping in the “yolo zone,” punning “inbox,” and having a “doppelganger week.”

“Not all cats are easy to draw,” admits Chasse. “In fact, some are seemingly impossible. The fluffy ones seem a bit more difficult to pull off for some reason.”

Meow Day at the Silent Barn: If you’re an unabashed cat enthusiast, activist, or rescuer, I have some unbelievably cat-tastic news—Meow Day is a bi-annual gathering at the Silent Barn in Bushwick that will embrace and encourage your love of cats (while also supporting local TNR & adoption efforts). The last Meow Day, on May 24th, had kitty-themed crafts, Meowmosas, a cat video booth, cat nail art, and cat-inspired merchandise—including feline bowties from Business Catual.

Meow Day organizer Jackie Du told The Bushwick Daily that, “The inspiration for the event comes from seeing stray cats in the neighborhood and figuring out how to find them homes! And of course the viral nature of internet cats, cat culture in general, and wanting to bring cat nerds together into one place and see what happens.” So, when should you mark your calendar for the next one? Right meow.

c/o Brooklynbodegacats.com

Brooklyn Bodega Cats: “Bodegas are already magical places where all of your breakfast and beverage dreams can come true,” says Bed-Stuy-based designer and illustrator Sunny Eckerle. “Add a cat to the mix and it’s pretty much perfection.”

When Eckerle first launched her Brooklyn Bodega Cat series “at the very end of 2014,” she was surprised by “how many people contacted me… to tell me about a bodega cat in their neighborhood or a store I should check out.” New Yorkers, it turned out, were not only emotionally connected to their bodegas, but also to their bodega cats. And, Eckerle’s work easily hits a personal chord, using illustrations to tell a story about each cat and the store where it dwells (and sleeps, and hunts, and sleeps).

“The cats have a very sweet deal if you ask me,” Eckerle says. “They get a place to live and food to eat in return for keeping pests away, although I’ve never seen one that wasn’t lounging around or sleeping.” In addition to feeding and naming all of the strays that gather on her fire escape, Eckerle also owns a ten-year-old cat named Vada, whom she’s been taking “out on the leash lately, which is like, 37 percent successful,” she admits.

c/o Space Cat via Etsy

Space Cat: What started as Wendy Mays’ Halloween costume in 2013 is now Space Cat, a professional feline who is available for weddings, birthday parties, photo bombs, and kid-friendly events that could use a giant cat from outer space.

“I found an old children’s book that had a cat that was in space,” says Mays. “I really, really wanted to do it [for Halloween], but I couldn’t find the the 1950s style space suits that were affordable. So I just created my own costume with different costumes and threw it all together with a cat mask. And then Space Cat was born.”

Are you kitten me? No, there’s even Space Cat calendars, pins, and postcards in case you want a piece of the zany Space Cat action. “I put out a calendar last year,” says Mays. “It started as a joke calendar for my mom to be funny, but then everybody wanted one. I’m doing another one this year.” And, there are now discussions of a Space Cat web series.

Does she own cats? “I actually have three cats right now,” Mays says with a laugh. “I say ‘right now’ like I’m going to get more.” The cats—Joe, Henry, and Little Bit—have all been rescues, and Mays adds that it really probably takes a cat person to be Space Cat. Of course, I think, a dog person would have been Space Dog.

"Cat's Head" From Egypt. Roman Period, 30 B.C.E.–third century C.E. Bronze, gold, 23⁄8 x 13⁄4 x 113⁄16 inches c/o Brooklynmuseum.org

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt at the Brooklyn Museum: If you spend enough time with a cat—those graceful, affectionate, and inquisitive beings—it come as no surprise that they were considered sacred in ancient Egyptian society, receiving the same detailed mummification burials as their human owners.

Apparently, human artisans slowly transformed the goddess Bast from a fierce lion to a docile cat, and she then became an “immensely popular and important deity representing fertility, motherhood, protection, and the benevolent aspects of the sun.” A cat cult was born; a temple was built; and thousands made the journey each year to said temple to make sacrifices and celebrate (cat merchandise at the time featured bronze sculptures and amulets depicting cats—seriously).

The Brooklyn Museum has impressively gathered nearly thirty different representations of cats from this time period for its long-term installation, Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt. This claw-some exhibition is world famous, so go see it right meow while its still just a subway ride away. (I promise—I am swearing off cat puns after that one).

c/o @BodegaCatsofInstagram

Bodega Cats of Instagram: This Instagram account posted its first photo a little over three years ago, but has recently been getting a lot of attention from bodega cat lovers world-wide. It’s no surprise—who wouldn’t want to see a photo of a cute kitten hiding among bags of Doritos or a very serious Russian gray mix guarding the ATM machine? With just 733 posts, the account has thirty-four thousand followers, and has been posting felines of all stripes very regularly lately. There’s just one unsolved question: Who is running the account?

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