Chris Poole is the human “servant” behind Cole and Marmalade, two cats who’ve gained quite a following from videos on their YouTube video channel and show on Animalist. (You might remember their appearance on Catster in December in our “Cats vs. Christmas Trees” post.) Cole is solid black cat and Marmalade, a wide-eyed ginger tabby, is in remission from cancer. Poole won the $25,000 grand prize at the 2014 Friskies, a cat video contest that saw 250,000 cans of cat food donated to shelters. More recently, Marmalade won the Star Cat contest in Modern Cat magazine and will be featured in the spring/summer 2015 issue.
I spoke to Poole, who lives in Southern California, about contests, cat celebrity status, and advocacy, among other topics.
Before the interview, see the video that won the Friskies award, “Dumpster Kitty,” starring Marmalade:
Layla Morgan Wilde of Catster: Tell us about the Modern Cat contest that asked readers to vote for the winner. It was a tight and heated race with Joe the Cat, but Marmalade snagged the top prize. What were the best and worst moments? What’s the biggest takeaway about cat lovers and your fans?
Chris Poole: The worst thing was having to compete with so many other deserving cats in the contest, but Marmalade is also very deserving, so we decided to give it our best shot. The best thing from the whole experience was seeing how passionate our fans were during the voting period. We really have some amazing and dedicated followers, who all pulled together to get Marm to the top spot and keep him there.
How is Marm feeling physically and emotionally? How did you celebrate the win? How do you think Cole felt?
Marm’s really doing very well. He eats like a pig. He’s very active, and you can tell from his lengthy purring sessions that he’s feeling good right now. We celebrated the win by giving him some tuna as a treat, and then we brought back some new boxes from the grocery store for him to play in.
The branding of celebrity cats is a debated issue — how much of it is true advocacy vs. the commercial exploitation of cats. What is your ultimate vision for Cole and Marmalade as a brand? Where do you draw the line, regarding personal appearances, not reviewing certain kinds of products, and so on?
Yeah, it’s a funny world when you use “celebrity cats” in a sentence. … I don’t think we’ll ever take Cole and Marmalade to do any personal appearances. They travel well in the car, but there’s still got to be a certain amount of stress that goes with that, especially for Marm, who’s only ended up at the vet after a car ride in the past few months. Then you have all the noise and strange surroundings/people once you get there. … Some cats seem fine in public, but for Cole and Marmalade fans they will have to enjoy them through our YouTube videos and photos on our social sites.
Joe the Cat, who was rescued after two boys shot him with a pellet gun, is continuing his fight for justice and advocating for other cats. Do you plan to help him or advocate for cats and other causes? Which causes will be front and center for you in 2015?
Yes, we’d like to help Joe and other cats, I just wish I had a few clones so my to-do list weren’t so long. The sky’s the limit when it comes to making Cole and Marm advocates for animal welfare issues. I have lots of plans for 2015 and really want to do as much as we can to raise awareness about certain topics, including FIV, black cat adoption, kitty cancer, declawing, and also issues facing exotic cats such as tigers and lions. I used to work at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, a sanctuary for previously abandoned and abused big cats, and I want to help sanctuaries educate the public about issues that reflect their mission.
With a growing body of successful and award-winning videos, what have you learned about making videos? What have you learned about cats by making them?
The fun and silly videos are always the most popular videos we make. We produce educational and awareness vids as well, but they never get anywhere close to the amount of views as the fun ones, unfortunately. I wish my videos about cat adoption racked up a couple of million views like the fun ones do, but obviously that rarely happens, so you’ve got to keep viewers interested by using different techniques. Humor always helps. I’ve learned over the past seven years of working with big cats, and now Cole and Marmalade, that they don’t care what shots or schedule you have in mind, and you really can’t force them to do what you want. But you can prepare and hope.
Is there a dream video scenario you’d love to capture?
That’s a tough one. I’ve already filmed big cats being rescued from horrible conditions in private homes and being transported to an accredited sanctuary where they spend their time living the best life possible in captivity, so that’s pretty dreamy.
Do you keep a camera handy at all times for impromptu moments, or do you try to script the action?
I try to [keep a camera handy], yes. I even have a box with all of my cameras that I try and carry around with me when I’m at home, just in case the boys start doing something goofy. But if I haven’t got my camera I usually have my phone with me at all times.
All images are copyright Chris Poole (Cole and Marmalade) and used with permission.
Read more about celebrity cats on Catster:
About the author: Layla Morgan Wilde is a holistic cat behaviorist, an award-winning writer/photographer and founder of the premier online magazine Cat Wisdom 101. A passionate advocate for cats, she founded the Toronto-based Annex Cat Rescue in 1997. In addition to her blogging at Cat Wisdom 101, she blogs at Boomer Muse and contributes to Petfinder.com and Nordic Spotlight. Wilde is a professional member of the Cat Writers’ Association. She lives in Westchester County, NY, with four cats.