Tom von Kap-herr, a social media consultant and photographer, lives with his very special family. Tom’s family consists of a wife, a daughter, a dog, and 18 cats. Yes, 18 cats. The cats, each with their own personality and quirks, are collectively known as the actors of the blog Cats at the Bar. Much like human actors, the cats perform parodies (Hairy Potter, Cats of Narnia) and are in love with the camera, which has become a constant part of their lives. The cats inspire poetry, comics, and laughter from their adoring fans. Tom tells us more about his life as the owner/agent.
Brielle Pritchard for Catster: So you have 18 cats in total. What kind of responses do you get from strangers when they hear how many pets you have?
Tom von Kap-herr: “Wow!” is the most common response, followed by, “Are you crazy?!” Some people look horrified, especially the ones who have a cat because they immediately picture the litter box.
Others spend an hour aww-ing over pictures and exclaiming how they would love to be able to have that many. Overall, the responses are mostly positive, but regardless of their reaction everyone walks away with a final, slightly worried glance over their shoulder.
I have one cat. I couldn’t imagine handling 17 more. How do you deal with the upkeep of so many cats at once?
I have the advantage that both my wife and I work from home. My day starts with being woken up by whoever happened to be sleeping on my bed that night, usually about half a dozen of them. First, they bounce around the bed for a bit, then start pawing my face and attacking my feet. “Okay, okay, breakfast is served.” This is spread over eight plates in three separate rooms.
Beanie, our old lady, eats in her own chosen private quarters (the downstairs bathroom this month) because she detests anything on four legs. A supply of fresh water is replenished several times a day — we use one of those big upside-down jug affairs– and dry food is available 24/7. But our cats can tell time, so twice a day, they put on a show pretending to be starving to death. Little Grey starts the charade. He just comes over to me wherever I am, positions his nose and inch from mine, and stares hypnotically. I’m a bit worried that someday I’ll let down my guard and end up buying him a Ferrari.
My wife is thinking of setting up a little business making and selling cat comforters. Those wouldn’t be comforters with cute pictures of cats on them; no, these would be stuffed with cat fur. She thinks we’re somehow losing out on an abundant, free commodity. I vacuum a lot.
Oh, and of course, we have several litter boxes. In true cat form, they’re quite finicky, so the boxes are cleaned out often! It’s too bad cats aren’t vegetarians. The composting opportunities would be awesome.
A lot of people take in stray cats and say they won’t get another. Then they do because a cat adopts them and who can say no to that. How did you develop this large collection of kitties?
For many years we had two cats in the house, then one day my daughter came home with a kitten. Little did we know that Sugar Plum would turn out to be the neighborhood hussy. Before we even had the chance to have her fixed, she was pregnant and in just nine weeks, our ranks swelled from three to eight. Over the course of a few years, another litter of kittens, and our inability to turn down any stray in need … well, you can do the math.
Unfortunately, in some parts of this country, veterinarian costs for spaying and neutering are really prohibitive. Once one litter is born, it’s hard to keep up. We’re lucky to be living now in a town that doesn’t bleed you dry to look after your animals. We’ve got the best vet ever, and he’s a bit wacky, too. He doesn’t think there’s anything odd about our population at all. Or maybe that’s just because we’re a big part of his retirement fund.
The cats all have their own personalities and are called “actors.” How do you keep the peace on set?
Cats are like precocious little children — when they play they want all the attention. When I’m outside with my camera, we go for a walk around the property (we have about three acres) and they chase around running and leaping in front of me begging to have their pictures taken. As with any family, there is always going to be some squabbling, and like people, cats have their good moods and bad moods. But the bad moods never last long and whoever’s feeling grumpy is usually just left alone.
Your motto is “Everyone has an opinion, especially cats.” Are there any really opinionated divas of the show?
They’re all divas in one way or another ÔÇô- they’re cats. If I had to pick a top three, I’d say … Chub-Chub comes to mind immediately. She is the first to come running when you are trying to do anything, whether it’s cleaning the litter boxes, cooking, or installing a new kitty door. She’s a very conscientious supervisor. And she communicates with her paws. If you ignore her, she’ll dig a claw into you, but if she feels you’ve done a good job, she’ll gently press her paw onto your hand as if to say, “Well done, you can take a break now.”
And then there’s Sammy. My wife can’t ever hope to sit down without having Sammy on her lap, shlurking her nose and chin. If anyone else has somehow managed to take his spot, he’ll just sit right on top of them as if they don’t exist, that’s simply his spot. My wife’s lap is a very popular cat-bed.
Wilhemina. Before she was fixed, we nicknamed her Roberta after a psychotic character from a cartoon show. Wilhemina could have had a brilliant career as a prison matron. She was one of the mothers and no one dared go near her kittens -ÔÇô for years! Although she’s much milder now, and her brood are all grown, everyone still toes the line around Willie with the Big Eyes.
You’re planning to branch out soon with more merchandising as well as a book. Are the kitties anxious to be big time internet stars like Lil BUB and Grumpy Cat?
I think they might be a little annoyed. They’ve never been ones for the paparazzi. As long as they’re fed, they’re happy, but I keep trying to explain to them that I need to earn a living to feed them. Economics is not one of their strengths. The book will be an anthology of the best Cats at the Bar posts, featuring the most popular cats: Tsuki, Dust Bunny, Chub-Chub, plus a few that have never been posted before. I’m also planning a new series, but I can’t talk about that yet. I’m still deciding whether to work with a publisher or to self-publish, so I’m open to discussion (hint-hint). As far as merchandising goes, yes, I’ll still keep that up. It’s become close to my heart because we donate $1 from each sale to a local no-kill cat shelter, the only one of its kind in the province, maybe even in the country.
Any chance we’ll ever see a Cats at the Bar movie?
Ha ha! Wow, that would be pretty ambitious. Right now, I can’t see quite that far ahead, though I do get a lot of requests for home movies or to post videos. I’ve always thought the story of our move two years ago would make a good script. Catching 17 cats one by one to dose them with an herbal sedative, loading them into carriers each with a bit of kibble and water, piling them into a rented van, then driving for 10 hours to a new home must be a pretty original story. You’ll notice I said 17 — my wife had to drive back the next day to retrieve Spirit, who’s always been a bit jittery, probably because his mother insisted he be raised in the duct work. Yeah, it would make a good story, but the look I get from my wife when I suggest a reenactment … it gives me the chills.
Tsuki is my personal favorite of the bunch. Out of all 18 of them, do you have a favorite?
I love them all. But each one in different ways. As you said, they each have their own personalities. Tsuki is big and tough and doesn’t like a lot of fussing, but when he decides he wants to cuddle, you just have to resign yourself that you ain’t moving for an hour or two; Tsuki’s very heavy.
Chub-Chub is just plain nuts, always cute and loving, but not quite understanding that you’re not a scratching post or something good to eat. Luckily, she only half-bites.
Nightshade loves to sneak up on you, climb into your lap, and once he’s successfully lulled you into his confidence, chomp you in the armpit. The look of bewildered innocence doesn’t hide the laughter in his eyes. Dust Bunny, who we’ve decided is not truly a cat, but some kind of genetic cross between an ape and a grizzly bear … okay, sorry, I’m getting carried away. No, I don’t have a favorite. They’re all wonderful. I feel very honored that they share their opinions with me, and their friendship.
Photos by Tom von Kap-herr.
About the author: Brielle lives in Youngstown, Ohio, with her kitty, Tanner, and her mom. She is an English major at Youngstown State University, with one more semester to go. She writes about cats, cosplay, and anime on her blog. Keep up with her and Tanner at Tanner the Kittie.