I suspect Steven Liu is a cat magnet.
Minutes after meeting him in a coffee shop in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn to talk about the Scratching Pad foster home he runs, he’s telling an anecdote about a cat who hobbled up to him on the street after he had done nothing more than popped out to grab a bag of doughnuts. He took the cat home and she’s now known as Barb. By the time we leave, Steven has attempted to persuade the java shack’s owner to remodel as a cat cafe and also to adopt one of the kittens he’s nursing.
Some people just attract cats like that.
It wasn’t always that way for Steven, though. Barely a year ago he lived a cat-free life, until he started a foster home that could eventually be funded by social media. Soon after opening, he took in the fabled New York City subway kittens (who came with some bonus pals, who starred in the Super Bowl’s half-time kitten showdown). He also helped me rescue JiJi Bear, the tiny black kitten stuck on a Brooklyn rooftop. You can view photo and video footage of them all over at the Scratching Pad’s Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram outposts, plus enjoy videos of cats attacking dried spaghetti from Steven’s mouth, licking his hair, and attempting to scarf down ice cream.
What follows is the story of the Scratching Pad, the little Brooklyn foster home with the expansive social media plans.
How did the Scratching Pad start?
It started as a series of thoughts connected. I used to work in production and I was looking through YouTube trying to figure out trends and I made a remark to someone that was kinda a dumb joke: I said, “I bet there’s more views per cat-ita than per capita.” Then it kinda clicked, like how a lot of people manage celebrities and personalities but no one’s managing cats. So what if someone started an animal management agency where they saved cats at the same time?
Then I had to move out of my living situation and I decided to move to somewhere I could start this cat project. I always wanted a cat too. I figured that even if the business side of it didn’t work, as a back-up option I’d get to foster a bunch of cats and I could always split up the apartment and rent rooms out.
How do you fund the Scratching Pad?
At first I was thinking about what if I have a bunch of cats, make videos and attempt to monetize the videos — like a standard YouTube strategy. But then it became a little more sophisticated because the existing cat content online is often very scattered, like you’ll see a cat picture or video and there’s not much context to it beyond it’s just a cute cat.
Moreover, there’s no action steps, so even if 10 million people see this picture of a cat it doesn’t go anywhere. I wanted to make similar cat content but where the photo is featuring a cat that can be adopted — so the cat is seen on the Internet, there’s a social angle to it and lots of people see it, but the cat also gets a home.
Then I wanted to combine it with organic product placement so brands can sponsor a cat while the cat is helping to promote a product that’s good for the cat.
Who was the first cat you fostered?
I got an email from Animal Care & Control and there was this one cat that only had three functional legs and a dislocated leg. Everyone told me not to get this cat, especially as I’d never had a cat before! But I was like, “But look, he’s so sad looking.” So I got the cat. His name was Dimitry.
How did it go with Dimitry?
It was definitely a little bit harder than I thought. As soon as I got the cat they told me to make sure he didn’t jump on the couch. Two minutes later he’s on the couch. I’m calling the foster helpline saying, “The cat’s on the couch, what am I going to do?” She was super helpful, told me it’s okay, just make sure he doesn’t land badly coming off the couch. I thought the cat was gonna break, like a plate with legs. But ultimately I realized cats are tough. Dimitry was adopted in like two weeks.
Which of the cats you’ve fostered have you secretly wanted to keep?
The roof cat [JiJi Bear]! I wanted to keep her because that cat was so nice. She became a lap cat and just did a thing where she’d headbutt to try and get you to pet her. The cat was cute on multiple levels.
When did she start licking your hair?
It was after like the first week. I’m a fan of letting animals do whatever weird thing they want. I once had a friend who had a parrot and the parrot tried to clean my teeth. That was kinda gross.
How did you end up fostering the New York subway kittens?
As simple as that?
Yeah, it was so much easier than people thought. I started seeing news reports — it was eventually on the front page of the Daily News I believe — and coincidentally two days later I got this email from Animal Care & Control saying they had these subway kittens and they needed fostering. I replied and wrote a nice persuasive essay and they sent them over that weekend. At that point my blog was still relatively obscure so I thought it would be a good opportunity.
What were the subway kittens’ personalities like?
From zero to 10, with zero being a leopard and 10 being the softest mush cat, they were like a four. They’re not the most feral cats I’ve ended up working with — they weren’t super domesticated — but they weren’t the most challenging. They would hiss a lot at first, but what made it better was that they came in with two other kittens — they were on the Kitty Halftime Show at the Super Bowl — and they were all friends somehow. That calmed them down.
Who’s the cat in the video who steals your laptop power cord?
That’s Barb. I was walking home from the subway with a bag of donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts. It was lightly drizzling and this dirty cat came up to me with a little limp and started meowing at me. I petted the cat and I started walking away then I thought, “Wait a minute, what am I doing? I run a cat sanctuary!” So I doubled back and noticed she had a collar on but she was dirty and was limping — she didn’t look like someone’s cat and didn’t look the healthiest.
I grabbed her, knocked on a few doors to see if she was anyone’s, no one answered, so I took her home. I raised some money, took her to the vet, they put her in a cast for a minute. Now she’s out of the cast. She’s a great cat, she’s like the lap cat of all lap cats. No matter what type of bed, even Tempurpedic, she just wants to be on you. She’s super nice, she doesn’t hiss, just very docile and lovable.
Other than adopting cats, is there anything else people can do to support the Scratching Pad?
Yes, I really do need people to like the Facebook fan page and Instagram photos. If you want to help me with this mission, the social media engagement is super important. I’m not like some aspiring social media guy where it’s, “Like my fan page because it’s me!” I think I have a good enough reason — it helps me save cats.
To adopt the adorable Barb or any of the other current Scratching Post residents, contact Steven via the Scratching Pad website.
Read stories of rescue on Catster:
About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.
Do you know of a rescue hero ÔÇö cat, human, or group ÔÇö we should profile on Catster? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.