Much like drag queens, grand dames, and superheroes, Cleo the Cat is a being who believes a costume is just everyday wear. She also puts her glamourpuss looks to good use, working to raise awareness for shelter animals and rescue organizations.
Cleo is a fluffy tortie who lives in Montrose, the coolest neighborhood in Houston, and she’s not content to stay indoors. Cleo needs attention from the public, which is why you’ll find her out and about at bars, restaurants, festivals, even the record store.
"She enjoys being around people and gets annoyed if they’re not paying attention to her," Cleo’s owner, Deborah Thomas, says. "Some people just walk by her and look without saying “hi,” and that’s when she goes, ‘Well!’"
There aren’t a lot of house cats who can say they have more than 500 fans on Facebook. "The Facebook page gives me a way to share my crazy cat things and not put it on my own page," Deborah says. "I have friends who are like, ‘Stop talking about your cats!’ So this is how I spare them.”
Like most cats, Cleo comes from humble beginnings. Deborah received an email a few years ago from a rescue group saying that a group of cats were due to be destroyed by the county shelter and needed foster homes, so she picked up two of them: Cleo and Emily. Today, Deborah has six cats in her lovely townhouse: Clarence, Cleo, Emily, Blaze, Nicholas, and Lily.
"It’s really important that everybody gets equal attention and they all get love,” she says. “Some cats go off and want to be alone and act like they don’t need the attention, but they really do get their feelings hurt and they feel like they’re at the bottom of the totem pole. So make sure you give everybody attention."
It’s especially important when one of your cats is a bit of a local celebrity. Deborah was inspired to dress up Cleo simply because her friends dressed up their dogs. Cleo’s a special cat in that she took to it.
"I can even put hats on her,” Deborah says. “I think she just likes to entertain. She can wave, too. She does things for treats."
The other cats get dressed up occasionally for photos, but none get the star treatment like scenester Cleo, who is the star of two parties every year: her birthday (a party that has been held for five years now) and an artier affair called Cleo’s Trio, which is in its second year. Both raise funds for no-kill shelter charities like Friends for Life.
"I love music and art and dance and have a lot of connections to arts organizations and performers in Houston, so I got them involved,” Deborah says. “I wanted to create an art event that united the community to help our animals."
Deborah doesn’t mind the term "cat lady" — she says she enjoys it. You’ll find photos of the cats around her home, as well as plenty of items for them to climb. She and her mother, Doris, create a very loving home for their kitties. "I’m fascinated by the loving feelings they give you,” she says. “Their warmth — when they look at you, they caress your soul, you know? They can’t do enough for you. They just want to make you happy. I love that their personalities are all so different."