Best Selling Author Gwen Cooper tells how cat tourism & events helps cats in a question and answer interview about her appearances at London’s first ever CatFest and the outrageously popular CatCon Worldwide. As Paws for Reflection is in the process of rebranding with a huge focus on cat events and cat tourism, we were thrilled that she agreed to give Paws a first-hand look into some of the Cat mega events ties in perfectly with our new focus?
Gwen, it’s so great to have a chance to do a Q&A with you. I admit that I was really impressed with Homer’s story, and am so glad you are using his legacy to help cats around the world.
At Paws for Reflection, we are intrigued by the mega Cat events, and see that you are going to be a guest speaker at the first ever London’s Cat Fest and Pasadena’s CatCon 2018. We’d like to ask you a few questions today about these mega Cat events, and why they are so beneficial to cats around the world.
- First of all, Gwen would you give us a short bio about yourself? While we at Paws for Reflection are very familiar with your work, some of our readers may not be. They may be aware of you being a New York Times Best Selling Author, but tell us a little bit more, and why do you think you have been asked to speak at both CatCon 2018 and London’s first ever CatFest?
First, thanks so much for having me on Paws for Reflection! As you noted, I’m the author of Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale and Homer: The Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat. I have two new books coming out this November: MY LIFE IN A CAT HOUSE and HOMER AND THE HOLIDAY MIRACLE. I travel around quite a bit, speaking at animal shelters and shelter fundraisers, and generally trying to be an advocate for special-needs animals like Homer.
Catfest London was serendipitous. Britt Collins, the event organizer, was in the States back in October, touring with her new cat book, Strays (which I highly recommend!). Her editor at Simon & Schuster connected her with me, and the two of us did a reading together. Britt and I grabbed a drink afterwards, and she basically said, “Hey, I’m putting together this event in London over the summer—do you want to be one of the speakers?”
My dear friend Mick Szydlowski—Oskar the Blind Cat’s “dad”—connected me with Susan Michals at CatCon. Usually I travel around the country to cat shelters and do small events with the volunteers. But Mick convinced me that it was foolish not to start going to some of these larger events, and I was delighted when Susan invited me to speak at CatCon.
Mick and I (and Klaus the cat!) will be doing two meet-and-greets together at CatCon, by the way, and you can pick up tickets to meet us at CatCon here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/catcon-2018-tickets-36284651369?aff=website. All the money from our meet-and-greet ticket sales will go to the Ian Somerhalder Foundation to promote animal rescue.
Best Selling Author Gwen Cooper tells how cat tourism & events helps cats
- Have you ever attended one of these mega cat events before, as a speaker or an as individual? And why do you think thousands of people show up for these cat themed events?
During the years I spent as a marketing exec before becoming a full-time writer, I went to tons of huge trade shows. But Catfest and CatCon will be my first big cat-specific events, so I’m excited! I love that these events have very positive rescue messages, and my guess is that the attendees are as interested in feline well-being and connecting with like-minded cat lovers as they are in cool cat swag.
- There’s no question there’s a cat culture, not just in the United States, but around the world. There’s no doubt the Internet has had a major part in this, but why do you think cat culture is able to merge with pop culture to make these events so popular?
I don’t think there was ever a time when cats weren’t a part of pop culture. They’ve always been in books, movies, TV shows, comic books. My husband likes to joke—and he’s probably right—that the early internet was built on cats and porn. But I also think that, in the larger culture, there was always a lag—that cats were viewed as an inferior alternative to dogs, or that people like us who love cats were seen as being “weird” in some way. So it’s great to see that larger culture finally catch up to what we cat lovers have always known. And when you look at how big these cat events have become, you can see how much unmet demand there was all along.
- What is the message that you will be bringing to CatCon 2018 and CatFest 2018? Do you think these events help elevate the status of cats?
I remember back when people who loved comic books and superheroes were seen as being oddballs—but then events like Comic-Con and the whole comic-book/superhero industry became so huge and lucrative that those fans couldn’t be dismissed anymore.
I think that cats and cat lovers are having a similar cultural moment. I definitely think that events like these raise the stature of both cats and cat lovers. My message at both events will be the same “humor and heart” message it’s always been—that, sure, cats can be funny, and people like me who are “owned” by cats will sometimes go to extraordinary and absurd lengths to make our cats happy. I love telling those stories and making people laugh! But, bottom line, the relationships we have with our cats are substantial, profound, and life changing—and the needs and well-being of cats are therefore worthy of society’s serious consideration.
- Would you speak about your new short story series, what is it, and what you hope to accomplish? Do you think this will help cat rescue around the world?
My new project is a first-of-its-kind, subscription-based, monthly e-short story series called Curl Up with a Cat Tale, published by BenBella Books. The stories retail individually on Kindle, Nook, etc. for $3.99 apiece—but if you go to my website, www.gwencooper.com/cat-tales, you can subscribe to receive new stories once a month for a year for a one-time payment of $14.99—which is 60% off the retail price!
Curl Up with a Cat Tale’s monthly stories are true stories about my five past and present cats, written in the same “humor and heart” vein as Homer’s Odyssey. Some of the stories are about Homer, and the rest focus on the other cat “characters”—Scarlett, Vashti, Clayton, and Fanny—that my readers got to know through my Homer books. Each story is between 30 and 50 pages. We got more than 1,100 subscribers in the first month after Cat Tales began publishing, and reader reviews have been overwhelmingly positive so far—both in terms of the stories themselves, and also because subscribers love making that one small payment and then having a new Cat Tale to look forward to at the beginning of each month.
All of my cats have been rescues, so these are definitely tales that make you want to hug a rescue cat—preferably your own!
- These cat mega events usually are tied to a rescue organization. Do you think that by tying celebrities, pop culture, authors, like yourself, and others together, it helps raise awareness about homeless cats, raising more money for rescue organizations and adopt out more cats?
The fundraising potential at events of this size is huge—which is a great boost to the rescue cause all by itself. And I also think that having so many people of authority from so many different fields and disciplines coming together to unite behind a strong, clear rescue message can’t help but make an impact on the culture at large!
- What do you expect from these two events? Do you think Catfest 2018 will be a whole lot different from CatCon 2018? Do you think that perhaps we are seeing a trend of these mega cat events sweeping across the globe? After all, we have Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp in New York City and Austin’s PopCats springing up this year?
Catfest London will be smaller than CatCon, as the venue only holds 1,200 people. But those 1,200 tickets sold out months and months ago—within a couple of weeks of the event’s being announced, I believe—and there’s a ton of international press coming from all over Europe. So I definitely think we’ll start seeing more of these types of events popping up in Europe and around the world fairly soon.
CatCon is still the gold standard, obviously, and you have to give Susan Michals a ton of credit for having had the foresight to produce the first of these mega cat events. I honestly don’t know what to expect beyond tens of thousands of cat lovers all in one place, but I’m excited to find out!
- Why do you think thousands flock to dress up in cat wear, see celebrities, go to the educational sessions, and adopt out the cats?
I think that the only thing better than loving something as much as we love our cats is getting to share that love with others who feel the same way. And dressing up and being around famous cats and people is just inherently fun! So I think that the reasons why people turn out for events like this run very deep, but ultimately aren’t that complex.
- What is the most fun thing you expect do to at London’s CatFest and at CatCon 2018? Is there a particular celebrity you would like to meet? Do you want to try one of the Cattini’s at CatFest? They sure sound interesting! Is there a favorite cat celebrity on Instagram or cat hero that you would like to meet?
At any event, large or small, the thing I look forward to the most is getting to talk to other cat lovers face to face. I love love love writing about my cats, but the nature of writing is that it’s something you do alone. So I always love getting to meet other cat lovers in purr-son. And I wouldn’t be the first writer who enjoys the occasional cocktail—so Cattinis are definitely something I’m psyched for!
I can honestly say that I’m as excited—if not more excited—to meet the adoptable cats at these events as any of the famous cats. But you have to understand that Homer was one of the original “internet famous” cats—he had tens of thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers as far back as 2009. Famous cats don’t hold the same kind of mystique for me, although what I’d really like to do is buy some of the famous cats’ humans a drink. I know exactly how hard they work behind the scenes!
- While cats are hot on the Internet and at the mega Cat events, cats still face a tough road. There are overpopulation issues. Shelters have too many cats. While people love felines on the Internet, they really don’t understand them. And of course, the ferals have a very tough situation, with many towns and cities, just wanting to get rid of them. How do you think these mega Cat events help deal with these issues? How do you think your rescue efforts and writing is making a difference?
In the last hundred years, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in awareness about—and local, state, and federal regulations concerning—animal cruelty. And that happened because society as a whole—even among people who may not care much about animals—evolved in their expectations. Maybe animal welfare isn’t your top priority, but nobody wants to live anymore in a society where horses are beaten in the streets, or where feline “population control” means putting kittens in a sack and throwing that sack in the river. And, as people changed, they expected their politicians to make laws reflecting their values and new perceptions of what a civilized, humane society—the kind most of us want to live in—should look like. Today, every city in this country has animal-cruelty laws and animal shelters.
The No-Kill movement is gaining ground for similar reasons. People are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of puppy and kitten gas chambers, even if animal welfare isn’t a voting issue for them. Our expectations as a society are evolving, and slowly but surely the reality is growing closer to those expectations.
That’s where I think events like these—and hopefully, in a smaller way, my own work—stand to make a true difference: by being a part of that shift in the societal goal posts. The more you see that so many people take this issue seriously, the harder it becomes to dismiss it entirely yourself.
- What do you think will be your biggest take-away from these events? What do you think the average attendee will go away with, other than tons of cool cat swag?
I hope that attendees and I will leave having forged stronger ties with likeminded people who also care about animals and animal rescue, and then putting some of that to use in our own day-to-day lives!
- Out of curiosity, where is the coolest Cat place you’ve ever visited? Why?
I don’t know if it’s a cat place, per se, but this is my best cat-related travel story:
Back in 2009, my husband and I were in St. Petersburg and took a private tour of the Hermitage. We were walking through a passageway that connected two galleries, and when we rounded the corner I caught a strong whiff of cat pee.
I turned to my husband and said, “There are cats living here,” and he said, “You’re crazy! There’s no way there are cats living in the Hermitage.” So I asked our guide, and she told us that during the WWII Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg was called Leningrad during the Soviet era), the Nazis completely blockaded the city and kept any food from getting in. People were starving, and out of desperation they unfortunately ate all the cats in the city.
Once there were no more cats to control the rodent population, the mice and rats started gnawing through the Hermitage’s art collection. So when the war was over, Stalin put out on order rounding up cats from all over the Russian countryside. They were brought to live in the Hermitage, and the descendants of those cats live there to this day, protecting the art. The cats have a staff of dedicated caretakers and even their own press secretary!
As an interesting side note, the most famous mouser in the Hermitage’s history was a blind cat. There’s a little statue of him in the courtyard. We were there the summer right before Homer’s Odyssey was published, and I remember standing in front of that statue and silently asking him to bless my book about Homer, another blind cat, and help us spread the word about how amazing blind cats can be.
Paws for Reflection has reviewed Gwen Cooper’s infamous book about Homer as well as her other writings. Here are some of our links:
What do you think about the mega cat events. Paws sure would love to be there. It sounds like so much fun. If you are going, please share some of your photos and stories. If not, let us know what you think. It’s pretty awesome if we can help cats through pop culture!