Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Holiday 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
Lori Shepler had a feeling that her rescue cat would make waves for all felines. And she had her vocal detractors when she told My Cat From Hell audiences in 2010, “Somehow, City the Kitty will help change the world for the better.”
But six years later, City the Kitty is an Internet sensation with hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers, a popular Instagram photo subject of daily six-toed fun, and an advocate for a pet cause that is making big strides in helping cats’ lives.
City the Kitty’s main cause and concern is ending declaw surgery for cats. As a polydactyl cat, keeping all those toes intact might be a bigger deal for him than most. It is also the reason why Lori thought the cause was worth championing with the cat she felt was so special.
City the Kitty came into Lori’s life in 2009. She found him on the street — literally; he walked up from a gutter in front of Lori’s home. She searched for City’s owner, without luck, and because City kept making himself at home, she figured she’d make the home his.
The cat was a frequent source of entertainment, with a playful streak that contained a bit of mischief. Lori’s time was freed up after being laid off from the Los Angeles Times, for whom she’d shot prize-winning photos, so she turned her camera lens on capturing City’s antics. “People saw the photos, and everyone said, ‘You should post photos of him; these are amazing,’” Lori recounted. “And the Facebook page grew. People would go to the page for a laugh every day. I saw that I was bringing a lot of joy to a lot of people.”
Lori continued to add to the photo blog, with shots of City stretching out or investigating her home, and started a YouTube channel. Her videos began garnering hundreds of thousands of views as well as attention from media outlets.
One thing led to another, and soon Animal Planet took notice of City’s page, casting City in an episode of Bad Dog in 2010 and then in My Cat From Hell soon after. That led to a contest in which Fresh Step litter awarded a top prize of $500 to feature City in a commercial. It still airs on TV today.
Audiences for City’s fun side grew, but even more was in store. About a year and a half ago, Lori reached out to veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Conrad to see if City could help spread the word about a feline surgery that left too many cats with behavior issues and poor health: declawing.
Conrad had founded anti-declawing education and welfare group The Paw Project in 2000. She had seen cats with physical and behavioral issues related to onychectomy and started a campaign to educate the public about it. She had been following City’s social presence and told Lori that City should get involved. “I looked it up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a no-brainer. He’s got big paws, and he could make a difference,’” Lori said.
Since then, City has rallied support for ending the practice of declawing through raising awareness via his social feeds. Many fans and fellow online cat stars follow his lead and contribute to the effort. “Nobody knows toes better than City the Kitty,” Conrad said. “We support each other in the cause to end declawing. City has brought a lot of attention to the cause with his outspoken innocence.”
Many of City’s posts celebrate intact toes on cats. He often uses the tag #cooltohaveclaws. On CitytheKitty.com, Lori has posted a list of vets who don’t declaw. She sends followers to PawProject.org when they want more information. And she fields calls from people who want help ending mandatory declaw policies in private establishments and encouraging municipali￼￼ties to ban the surgery.
Productive fun does occur in Lori and City’s life, and more is in store for the pair. Recently, composer David Teie wrote music to relax cats, and City helped test it out. He was in the Washington Post news video that featured Teie’s cello sounds and might lend a giant paw to the album’s marketing, too.
Big paws can help a big cause, but they can also enjoy some time to play. City the Kitty seems to have it all handled, with more fun to come.
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About the author: Anastasia Thrift’s “job” is to find interesting cats online and share stories and photos of them for CatChannel.com. She’s written about pets and their people for 10 years, working her way up the food chain to cats. Neighborhood cat, Killer, ate on her front porch for a year before reluctantly letting her bring him indoors. Follow Anastasia on Twitter at @ThriftT.