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“Cat Party” a Big Hit at Roanoke’s Downtown Library

Roanoke College students Brittany Frye (L) and Lauren Griggs took a respite from studies to attend the Cat Party.

by Cheryl Hodges

Anyone within a few blocks of Roanoke’s Downtown Library last Thursday evening who did NOT have a cat, that’s C-A-T, in tow had to feel terribly out of place.  Reminiscent of something out of a Hitchcock movie, the dark cold evening saw bundled up passers-by — hurrying to escape the frigid temperatures– quietly converging on the Library – most with a pet carrier containing a cat in hand. For the uninitiated, the awkward confusion was broken by a hearty “WHERE is YOUR cat?” by another cat-less pedestrian who found the scene quite amusing.

Turns out that a lot of Roanokers were headed to their first-ever “Cat Party” sponsored by Roanoke’s Main Library. The event was promoted through ads and flyers featuring a gorgeous “shoulder shot” of a fluffy feline whose spellbinding amber / green eyes seemed to beckon even those who are not so fond of cats.

The event “drew around 200 people and about 51 cats,” estimated River Laker  (Creative Development at City of Roanoke), who put together the plan after learning of photographer Vickie Holt’s work, which has raised pet adoption rates by as much as 30% since shelters began using her innovative approach to showcase animals in need of a home.

Kyleigh Smithey holds "Clayton," who more than accommodated his many admirers by behaving on his leash.

Holt combined what started out as a hobby – taking photographs and video – and her love of animals, and came up with the idea of providing high quality photographs of animals awaiting adoption to post online. It has worked so well that she is now also training others in hopes of spreading the method across the country.

Holt says, “It is the duty of every human heart to do everything possible to find a home for every animal before its time is up. An effective online photo is a great first step.” Holt was also in attendance at the Cat Party, which seemed to be a group in nearly constant motion, as people mingled with cats in crates, cats on leashes, and cats draped over their owners, leaving some to wonder who was showing off whom.

Laker mentioned one couple who each had a cat perched on their shoulder for the entire evening. The animals looked deceptively content and complacent unless someone got too close, in which case they got a loud warning hiss, which most found quite entertaining. One lady brought her one-eyed cat which she had adopted from Angels of Assisi—a success story for a compromised animal who found a loving home.

Two young ladies from Roanoke College said they “saw the flyer downtown and we had nothing to do so we figured, ‘why not? Let’s go to the Cat Party.’” They didn’t stop there; they painted their faces with a fairly good “Cats” look and brought their cat along for good measure.

Laker found this was the first time he could not get the crowd to settle down, even when it came time to perform the “Cat Talk” skit he had prepared; apparently everyone was just having too much fun cat-mingling and enjoying the camaraderie. He said “this time it was impossible to get everyone quiet—I’ve never had that happen before. Most people were content to just hang out with their cats,” which was fine by Laker. The program managed to go on as planned, with just a bit of background noise.

In addition to highlighting the work of both Angels of Assisi and Holt, the event reaped tangible goods; partygoers were asked to bring a donation of cat food or litter. Laker was clearly pleased that they “got a huge amount to donate to Angels of Assisi.” He added that he has gotten “really great feedback, people really enjoyed this event; it’s just no one had the nerve to do it before.”

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