“I’m so glad you’re here, and I really love your program!”
That’s what a prominent member of the Cat Writers Association said to me soon after I arrived at the group’s annual conference in Los Angeles last Thursday.
To be clear, I don’t have “a program.” I’m an editor and writer. But I knew what she meant. See, I bear a certain resemblance to Jackson Galaxy — bald head, big shoulders, distinct face fuzz, stark glasses, shiny silver earrings and accessories. And hey, we’re both cat guys.
Galaxy was scheduled to speak at the conference, and I knew I might be mistaken for him if I arrived first.
I did. And I was. Numerous times. And it was really fun.
The conference was the 20th such event held by the Cat Writers Association, and about 100 people attended workshops, panel discussions, and one-on-one meetings with editors and publishers. While I won’t attempt to cover all that happened at the event that spanned four days, I will show some photos and tell you the coolest things that happened to myself and Managing Editor Vicky Walker, the first of which is ÔÇª
1. Living as Jackson Galaxy for Two Days.
The first person to mistake me for Mr. Galaxy (I won’t name names — but I will say that she spoke at the conference too) didn’t believe me when I gently told her she had the wrong guy.
“You’re just messing around with me, aren’t you?” she said with a smile.
The second encounter (also from a high-ranking cat lady) happened in an elevator lobby Friday morning.
“Well, YOU look famous,” she said with a knowing smile, adding seriously, “Thanks so much for being here.”
I didn’t deny that I was the Cat Daddy, but neither did I confirm it. This cat lady and I were each on the way to the start of the day’s events, and I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of her peers, who were by then walking alongside us nearby.
So I let it go. But as it turns out, numerous of her peers thought the same thing. Later, one of them said to me, “Someone told me Jackson Galaxy is already here — and he’s the bald guy.”
At that point, I was the only bald guy at the conference (and one of a very small handful of men attending). Several times as I walked past groups of cat ladies, I heard whispers that included the words “Jackson Galaxy.”
2. Discussing Paranormal Activity with Dusty Rainbolt.
Dusty Rainbolt (her real name) is a fifth-generation Texan who had zero experience with ghosts or paranormal activity until a month after the death of her cat Maynard (named after the Dobie Gillis character Maynard G. Krebs because of his little Beat Generation goatee).
Just before going to sleep one night, she felt a cat jump onto the bed and lay down across her ankles — like Maynard used to do every night. It lasted 20 minutes or more. Thing is, there was no cat there. Rainbolt didn’t move for fear of scaring off her ghostly visitor. From that night on, she had no doubt in the existence of spirits.
“Maynard made me believe in ghosts,” she said, and she later wrote a book on the subject called Ghost Cats. She also began doing paranormal investigations with her husband.
In a hotel suite she shared with Cat Writers Association lifetime member Amy Shojai, Rainbolt showed me numerous photos she’d taken during paranormal investigations — much like investigations I’ve been on in California and much like many photos I’ve seen. (I’ve also had what I believe are the visiting ghosts of cats hopping on my bed.)
Just before she showed me her photo collection, I’d said, “It’s late, I really should be going.”
We talked and looked at images for 90 minutes more.
3. Meeting Zeki and Arden Moore.
Zeki is the only cat in the country certified for assistance in pet first aid, says her human, Arden Moore, who’s an author, speaker, and pet expert. That means Zeki lets veterinarians in training handle her when they learn how to look for certain injuries and disorders in cats.
That’s quite remarkable, considering what happened to Zeki (whose name is Turkish for “clever and courageous”). Someone essentially tried to skin her alive. She was found in Dallas with knife wounds and some of the hide on her back removed. She was rescued and fostered by Dusty Rainbolt before she found her way to Moore.
Zeki was a big hit at the conference.
4. Meeting Marilyn Krieger and Her Bengals.
Cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger looks like a mad scientist — and Vicky and I told her as much. Her clothes are utilitarian, she speaks with rapid-fire authority and precision, and her hair goes wild in many directions.
That said, Krieger is a caring and benevolent mad scientist. She showed as much during a demonstration of how clicker-training works with cats, using Her two gorgeous Bengals, Nanook and Hercules.
Her session was called “Saving Lives and Changing Perceptions: Cat Behavior and Clicker Training for Writers.” Krieger said cat writers are in a great position to help end stereotypes about cats — namely that cats are untrainable, and cat owners just have to live with whatever they don’t like.
5. Meeting Catster Freelance Writers in Person.
Vicky and I got to spend time around several of the people we work with every day online but have rarely or never met in person, including Angie Bailey, JaneA Kelley, and Stephanie Harwin. Bailey, who runs the blog CatLadyLand.net, won an award Saturday night for her story called “CosmIc Love.”
Kelley, meanwhile, gave presentations on WordPress and appeared on a panel regardilg writers using social media to maximize publicity. She was also appointed as an officer in the Cat Writers Association.
Vicky and I appeared on two panels: “What Editors Wish Writers Knew” and “Transitioning to Web Writing.”
6. The Swag.
Oh. My. God. The swag — which during the dot-com boom in San Francisco I learned is an acronym for “souvenirs, wearables, and gifts” — was remarkable. Every attendee got a pink bag emblazoned with a stylized kitty and the words “Cats Rule” filled with treats, toys, fancy canned food, literature, home-cleaning products, over-the-counter remedies, more treats, more toys, and then some treats and toys. (And treats.)
To demonstrate the extent of the haul, I spread it out on my king-size hotel bed as evenly as I could, and it more than covered the area. People had so much to take home — and many attendees were traveling via commercial airlines — that a big box for shelter donations was filled.
You’ll probably see some of this material again soon in the form of Catster giveaways.
7. Meeting Jackson Galaxy.
The Cat Daddy himself arrived at the hotel Saturday morning about 15 minutes before he was due to speak. A small group of writers stopped him to talk, and I saw my chance.
“I’m Keith Bowers,” I said to him as I shook his hand, “and I’ve been you for the past 36 hours.”
His reply was quick: “You know, I have been too ÔÇª and it’s the strangest thing!”
I didn’t see it, but Vicky was across the room when I greeted him, and she reported seeing a slight look of “What the hell?” in his eyes as I approached. I guess even he sees the resemblance. (Maybe his inside voice said, “What am I doing here?”)
He wore a remarkable red-white-and-black bowling shirt (I wore a similar red rayon number), and later in the day I asked him where he got his clothing. He named a website called Daddy-O’s — which makes perfect sense, because I’ve bought numerous shirts and jackets there. (You’d expect anything less?)
Galaxy’s talk, “The Making of a Cat Daddy,” covered the material in his book (also called Cat Daddy). Books and TV shows such as his My Cat From Hell “are helping cat guys like myself and Keith come out of the closet.”
He told the story of how a self-abusing party boy of a musician in New York City came to love cats and eventually learn to make a living through helping troubled cats. Working in a shelter had everything to do with that, he said. He described his shelter job as a finite effort for him, and he advised others to think of it in the same way because it can be very hard to take after a while.
“I left the shelter life because I was burning out,” Galaxy said. “Figure out the light that you shine, and take it out into the trenches!”
Inspirational, this man.
He spoke a lot about his late cat Benny. Benny’s illness and death were tremendously influential on Galaxy.
“I wanted to write a story — and it turned into a book — about his life,” he said.
Next up, he said, is a book on feline design with his friend Kate Benjamin of the home-design blog Hauspanther. He said he also hopes to convert some case studies from the cats he has helped into a book.