When David Giovanni spotted a group of people crowded around an injured kitten outside the 233rd Street subway station in New York City, his natural instinct was to scoop up the helpless kitty and offer it warmth and safety inside his shirt. A former construction manager who was homeless at the time — and has since been battling a rare form of cancer — David nurtured the kitten back to health while living on the street. He named the tabby Lucky.
“This little creature just saved my life,” David tells the camera during the documentary Cat Daddies, which relays his story alongside eight other male cat guardians from around the United States. Directed by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Mye Hoang, the tender bond that develops between David and Lucky as they search for a safe spot in the world forms the emotional crux of the documentary.
Early on, David’s hunt for housing is derailed by shelter policies prohibiting pets. “David sacrificed so much and was living on the street when he didn’t really have to because none of the shelters would let him keep Lucky,” Mye explains.
Men and cats
David and Lucky’s journey is a heart-wrenching one — but Mye’s original intention for Cat Daddies was to present a breezier exploration into the relationship between masculinity and feline adoption.
“I set out to make it extremely light and entertaining,” she says, adding that the idea for Cat Daddies was formed in 2018 after witnessing an “explosion of men and their cats on social media.” Mye was likewise moved by the experience of her husband taking in a stray cat while they were first dating. These days, Mye and her husband care for a clowder of four kitties.
True to Mye’s early vision, Cat Daddies opens with a segment profiling Nathan Kehn (see left on poster with cat Princess), a Hollywood-based comedic actor who’s known as Nathan The Cat Lady to his 350,000 Instagram fans. During Nathan’s spot, he pretends to play along to classical music by imagining his four lined-up felines as an improvised piano, complete with using upright tails to mimic arpeggios.
The spotlight also falls on Tora, a Scottish Straight who rides shotgun around the United States with her trucker human David Durst and dresses up in a wardrobe of 150 outfits at meet-and-greet sessions with fans.
A delicate balance
But while Mye was sourcing footage for Cat Daddies, the social climate of the world began to change.
“Halfway through filming, the pandemic happened,” she reflects. “Then more things happened in 2020 that influenced me to change the direction and balance the lighthearted humor with the drama that unfolded that year.”
Adding extra layers to Cat Daddies, carefree tales of men and their kitties are balanced by a focus on feline welfare advocacy efforts and the healing bond between humans and cats.
Flame is a self-assured feline who resides at a South Carolina firehouse. Discovered meowing behind the station — and described by fire engineer Jordan Lide as a “small, malnourished cat hunkered down in the grass” — Flame now brings a sense of calm respite to essential workers at the firehouse, helping to lower the collective blood pressure of a fire crew working under high-stress conditions.
Shifting to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, Cat Daddies profiles Will Zweigart, who founded the community-focused Flatbush Cats initiative that assists feral cat colonies. To date, Flatbush Cats has trained more than 500 volunteers in the trap-neuter-return process.
“If people could see what we’re seeing, they couldn’t walk by,” Will says. He goes on to advocate using social media to spread knowledge about feral cats and talks about educating online followers to successfully socialize “spicy kittens” who initially hiss at humans out of fear. Ultimately, Will likens the role →
of feline guardians to community caregivers; he challenges the stereotype of caring for cats as being an exclusively feminine role by defining masculinity as a willingness to “protect and care for others.”
As Cat Daddies progresses, updates on David Giovanni and Lucky convey the deep devotion that develops between cats and the humans in their life. Two weeks after David finally finds accommodations willing to welcome Lucky, he’s diagnosed with cancer. A friend named Pamela Darby takes Lucky in while David receives medical treatment. In the hospital, David talks about his goal of getting back with Lucky. In moving terms, the documentary calculates David’s prognosis not in terms of months or years, but as the time he has left with Lucky. (At the time of writing, David and Lucky are living together in supportive housing.)
“I started this project as an exploration of masculinity but it became very apparent there were common threads of housing and security,” Mye says, reflecting on the documentary’s enduring message. “I found a common parallel between cats that were being rescued in Brooklyn and David’s situation because I feel like everyone’s left to fend for themselves, whether it’s these poor cats on the street or these men on the street.”
Encapsulating the heart of Cat Daddies, Mye adds, “It’s up to compassionate citizens to step in and get involved to try to make a difference.”
Follow the adventures of some of the cats (and their dads) featured in the documentary
Nathan Kehn Instagram influencer and cat dad to Annie, Ginger, Pickles and Princess. @nathanthecatlady
Jordan Lide Fire engineer who discovered Flame The Arson Cat. @flamethearsoncat
David Giovanni Lucky’s guardian. No social media, but you can check him out at gofundme.com/f/av2jt2-help-fordavid-and-lucky
David Durst Truck driver who travels with Tora (and her many outfits). @toratravels
Jeff Judkins Boulder Creek-based human to adventure cat Zulu. @zuluzibar
Will Zweigart Founder of the Flatbush Cats nonprofit TNR initiative. @flatbushcats
Peter Mares The human behind the Goal Kitty phenomenon. @goalkitty