Toward a Unified Theory of the Cat Man
Although the "cat lady" has been documented, reclaimed, and subverted, the men who love cats are a whole different breed. Is man's best friend actually feline?
Photo by Kathryn Swayze via Stocksy
"The oldest cat we have—his name is Ellie. Then we have a pair of cats—their names are Buttonz and Snapz. Both of those spelled with z's... I don't know why. After that we have a cat named Chloe. Then we have a brother and sister, Timmy and Zoya. The last cat we got is Rex. Yeah. I think that's all of them."
I'm talking to Allen Quigley, a married man who lives with seven cats in Austin, Texas, over the phone, and he's struggling to remember all their names in succession. Until recently he had a grand total of eight cats, but one of them—his eldest and first with his wife—just passed away. For Quigley, amassing such a large number of cats wasn't intentional. The origins of his cat collection can be traced back to Brooklyn, where he and his wife were living during their college years. There they adopted two cats that a friend no longer wanted, and once they moved to the southwest their kitten karma multiplied. "A friend of a friend had these two great cats and wanted to get rid of them, and when we saw them we had to have them. We didn't want them to go to a shelter so before we knew it we had four cats," Quigley explains. "Austin, Texas, is notorious for having a lot of feral cat colonies hanging out in the streets, and that's kind of how we got the rest over the last several years. Every single one was a rescue."
Once in Quigley's custody, the cats have free reign over his entire home, including their outdoor, screened-in "catio." "The area that I have set up for my cats is bigger than the room I had in New York. We're basically just living in the cats' house. Everything is kind of theirs."
The stereotype of the cat lady—that lonely spinster with only cats to keep her company until her dying days—has been well documented in pop culture, reclaimed, and subverted. Some have even theorized that the makings of a crazy cat lady lie, in part, with a feline-carried parasite. Little, however, is said of the cat man. Masculine icon Ernest Hemingway loved cats as much as he loved whiskey; Picasso paid tribute to cats throughout his work. But if it's true that dogs are a man's best friend, then a man who owns a cat is, at the very least, unexpected. As a precaution, I'm always suspicious of men who catch me off guard, so when I set out to find self-proclaimed "cat men," I thought they would all be disingenuous pick-up artists who used their feline friend(s) to trespass into the good graces of unsuspecting women. But to my shock and dismay, almost all the cat men I spoke with were sweet and earnest.
It's pretty cool to keep making cat videos that make people laugh and promote issues that are close to my heart as well.
Based on my research, a taxonomy of the cat man (cat bro?) could be as follows: married or in a committed relationship, has altruistic tendencies, and is, most likely, white. Only one guy admitted that having a cat gives him leverage with "the ladies": "Inviting someone back to my place to 'meet Miami' [his cat] is a pretty convenient line. I think having a cat—a rescue cat, no less—is seen as endearing and cute. One cat makes me look good, but I think more than one cat would start to get weird." Further, many of the men I spoke to were converted from dog men to cat men by a significant other, but their love for the species is no less pure. Bryan Woods, who was one of a dozen guys who responded to my highly scientific "cat questionnaire," boasts that if his cat "was a human celebrity she'd be Rihanna." Cat men, it seems, are just as "crazy" as their female counterparts.
Indeed, Quigley's dad can probably attest to this. "My parents still live out east in Connecticut, but they came to visit here a couple years ago. My dad—man, I felt so bad for him—he had to wear, like, not a gas mask, but a painter's mask, you know? He was having a rough time," he laughs. Short of dressing his cats up in costumes, he's attempted to walk them on leashes (as any dedicated cat owner would) and bought them three separate Christmas trees. "I don't know why they have three," he admits. "One of them is tiny and goes out on the catio. We do everything at Christmastime for the cats." The craziest thing he's done for his four-legged friends? Staying up every night for two weeks in an attempt to "capture" a female feral cat so that he could take her to the vet and have her spayed. "That's what we kind of try to do here. It's just the right thing to do," he says.
YouTube vlogger Christopher Poole has a fairly reasonable number of cats (two), though he's made almost 200 videos of Cole and Marmalade. One of his videos entitled "Real Men Love Cats" bears the description, "I'm a cat man and proud of it!" What follows is a cute montage of his favorite moments with his pets. As a companion video of sorts, he has another called "Real Men Hug Cats!" that has almost 150,000 views. In total, Poole, originally from the UK, has 200,000 subscribers that eagerly await his next cat-centric upload. He is a professional cat man.
Before his YouTube success, Poole worked at a big cat sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, that rescued tigers and lions, living on the property and caring for the sanctuary's exotic cats. "I actually went to school for graphic design, but then I decided that I wanted to do something with my life that made a difference. After college I interned at the big cat rescue and then started working there full time in 2008 until this year," Poole explains over the phone, his voice shy and British. In 2012, while putting in time at the cat sanctuary, Poole made his first cat video after adopting a black cat with his wife—and the story is just as cute as it sounds.
"My wife and I found out that black cats are the least likely to get adopted in animal shelters and the most likely to get euthanized because people just don't choose black cats when they go to shelters—they always choose the colorful tabby cats or calico cats. So we decided to make a video called '10 Reasons to Adopt a Black Cat' in order to show how cool Cole was and to promote black cat adoptions. That was the first big video that took off," says Poole. "We do silly videos, but we also do videos that promote adoption and the importance of spaying and neutering. It's really cool to get all the messages and feedback from all the different people around the world saying that they adopted cats because of our videos. Even people with medical problems in hospitals say our videos helped them out a lot. It's pretty cool to keep making cat videos that make people laugh and promote issues that are close to my heart as well. It's pretty sweet."
I get [a lot of comments] that say, 'You're the perfect man. I wish I could find a guy who loves cats.' I'm kind of surprised at how rare cat men are.
Sweet, indeed. Since then, his apartment has been taken over by cats. While the living room is an obstacle course for humans, Poole proclaims that it is a cat paradise, with more boxes than a kitty could dream of. And for his most ardent YouTube fans, Poole is a dream himself. "There are quite a few people who ask me if I'm single. I used to get that often," he says. "I think a lot of viewers have crushes on me, but by now most people know that I'm married, so there's less comments like that. I get some that say, 'You're the perfect man. I wish I could find a guy who loves cats.' I'm kind of surprised at how rare cat men are. I know there's a lot of us out there, but I guess people always associate dogs with men." To subvert the idea that men and cats don't go together—and to push product—Purina recently launched a new campaign, the #MenAndCatsContest, which features cat men in all their glory.
But not everyone is a fan of the combination, especially when the number of cats a man owns nears dangerously close to double digits. Writer Michelle Lyn King had the distinct pleasure of dating a guy with eight cats. She was 19 at the time (so who could blame her), a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston, and he was working on his BFA in acting at Boston University. "If I met someone now who had eight cats, I'd immediately be concerned for their well-being and turned off," she tells me over email, "but at the time I think I saw it as a sign of him being grown-up. I lived in a dorm and often ate string cheese for dinner. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment, had alphabetized books, and was, apparently, a capable enough person to care for eight other living creatures.
"That's how I initially saw the situation, but that's not at all how the situation actually was," she says.
Soon enough, she discovered that her BFA beau was not, in fact, capable of caring for that many cats. "A friend at the time told me, 'He loves his cats more than anything, and he can't even care for them. What makes you think he could care for you?'" she remembers. But even still, the allure of a cat man was strong. "He was absolutely more obsessed with his cats than he was with me, but—and this is going to sound so fucked up—I liked watching him be so tender to something. He was a very angry person—the kind of person whose entire day is ruined because the train was ten minutes late—but when he was with his cats, he was so sweet. Almost childlike." One of his cats, Foster, was of course named after David Foster Wallace. Though after having her hair pulled one too many times by a wayward cat during sex, she said goodbye to all that.
Despite King's unhappy experience playing lover to a cat dude, Australian filmmaker Cameron McCulloch wants to encourage people to focus on the positives of cat men in his new film. Cat Men, a forthcoming feature-length documentary out next year, aims to dive deep into the relationship between man and cat. A self-proclaimed cat man, McCulloch wanted to seek out other guys like himself. "Originally, I thought it would be interesting to find the strangest guys out there who had cats, but once I started filming, the direction changed completely to something with a lot more heart and soul," he explains. "The subject matter really opened up to be about how cats can help people with various mental health issues. The film also features several subjects who look after feral cats and feed them with with their own money." One man, who features at the center of the documentary has spent $60,000 caring for over 150 feral cats on the Big Island of Hawaii, McCulloch says. Other subjects include a retired police officer, "Steve," whose cat, Big Frank, enjoys going for swims in Steve's hot tub.
While their stories varied, all the cat men I interviewed had two things in common: a deep appreciation of cats and the acute sense of relief that comes with knowing they will never have to deal with getting cat hair stuck in their vagina.