How a docile lump of a cat stole the show.
Tom Purrty had been at Fairfax County Animal Shelter for over a month before exposing himself as a nosy little purse-spelunker.
He was a sweet soul, but constantly in the literal, and figurative shadow of Fat Marco, his spotlight-loving roommate in the shelter’s free-roaming cat room. Being a meek, gentle guy, Tom would typically go unnoticed while Fat Marco flopped around the room like a bored, bloated debutante. It’s not uncommon for less bold personalities to become even more reserved in situations like this; Tom needed a boost that showed him as more than an unusually passive DIY manx.
The challenge was to make an invisible cat the center of attention.
A visitor was being introduced to the other residents when I spotted Tom giving her purse the side-eye. Tom wasn’t known for his engagement, so I asked if she’d be alright with resting it on the floor to see what happens. Tom didn’t skip a beat. He hastily descended from his tower and had his entire front half in the bag within seconds. Over the next half hour, I had borrowed every bag and purse in the building. Visitors were engaged with “Hey. .. you have a purse. Want to help a cat find a home?”. He never failed to take advantage of a bag-inspecting opportunity, and even charmed one purse donor into letting him fall asleep in her arms.
His graphic took about 15 minutes with the Photogrid app. It was posted on the shelter’s volunteer group Facebook page where other cat volunteers were inspired to submit pictures of him rifling through their stuff.
Within four hours of the image being posted to the shelter’s public Facebook page, he was on his way home. A couple had fallen in love with this marvelous bag-snoop on sight and rushed in to snatch him up.
Tom’s story illustrates an effective method for showcasing easily overlooked cats.
- When possible (and safe), facilitate the subject’s curiosity. We were lucky that Fat Marco was in a food coma when all this happened. When one feels safe to be themselves (be it human, cat, or otherwise), brilliant things happen. Be observant of where their attention is focused, even if it’s just a glance or slight cock of the head. If the cat has no apparent interest in anything, try some of my favorite bait; live crickets, oat or wheat grass, and games on the tablet work well in many cases.
- Replicate the action or quality to demonstrate predictability. When an action is presented as a trait, it speaks more to the cat’s character than a candid one-off shot. Cats are often perceived as volatile, so showing consistency is a big selling point.
- Engage the public and your colleagues to increase exposure/buzz. In Tom’s case, the pitch required minimal commitment from visitors, making them more willing to spend time with a cat they may not have noticed otherwise. Had his social media exposure not worked immediately, the meme would still have value with volunteers; knowing about his stupid bag tricks gave them a means to introduce him to potential adopters in a significantly more endearing way. When someone knows about a cat that forages for old hard candies (which is what we decided he was doing), word gets around.