Cat Man on the Air

KLCC reporter Brian Bull explains his obsession with felines

In the newsroom at Eugene’s KLCC radio (89.7 FM), reporter Brian Bull is known as the go-to guy for cat tales. The 50-year-old Lewiston, Idaho, native came to the station four years ago and now lives in Eugene with his wife and three children – and, um, some cats.

In these socially distant times, we conducted our interview by email.

Eugene Weekly: When did you have your first cat? What was its name? 

Brian Bull: My first ever cat was a shelter adoptee I named Oscar, which I got around age 10. Because he was so young at the time, we adopted his mom, too. My dad named her Harriet, because he thought it’d be reminiscent of the TV series Ozzie and Harriet. I should probably look up that show sometime to finally get the reference 40 years later. 

How many cats do you have now? 

Ha ha! You almost made me spill, but there’s no way I’d divulge to the public that we’ve five cats in our household. You’d have to be nuts to have so many… Oh, shit. I guess the cat’s out of the bag. You’re good, Keefer.

What are their names? Do they do any tricks or have distinguished resumes?

Our oldest is a 15-year old brown feral tabby named Sydney. She comes from the mean streets of Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a city just like Eugene, only they eat more cheese and don’t really like talking about the Rose Bowl lately. Anyway, Sydney’s special thing is that,true to her feral roots, she likes to burrow under your blankets at night like she’s some kind of cave cat. And randomly claw your ankles because, cats.

Sydney has the lone distinction of having sat in KLCC’s studios once. I was coming back from the vet and needed something from the office on the way back. She sat in our main studio and, after a few minutes, seemed to really like it there. Before long she was yelling for coffee and wondering who wrote her such god-awful copy for the noon newscast.

Our second oldest is Abbey, a Russian Blue mix with gorgeous green eyes and a unique trill in her voice. She’s probably the most affectionate, and I’ve nicknamed her Tortoro because she’s plump, gray, and with a curious white pattern across her belly. We adopted her back when I lived in the Cleveland-area.

Then there’s Watson, our tuxedo cat. He was adopted about the same time as Abbey, they’d both be around 6 years old now. His special talent is lying on his back with all his feet in the air, like the poor guy just keeled over and went to that great litter box in the sky. But he’s also the most affectionate with both humans and his fellow cats. He sometimes hugs us or his fellow felines. He’s the Leo Buscaglia of cats.

Our orange tabby Sam joined the crew nearly two and a half years ago. We adopted him from Greenhill Humane Society, so he’s the genuine Eugenean among the brood. As such, he listens to public radio, drinks craft beer and often asks where the nearest catnip dispensary is. He’s also the biggest cat. When our vet evaluated him, he forewarned us Sam would be sizable, just by studying his paws. Those biscuit-kneaders are HUGE. I think we may have adopted a mountain lion by accident. 

Finally, there’s Scotty. He’s a Siamese with hints of tabby, judging by the faint striping in his fur and more laid-back demeanor, which is a real positive, IMO. My wife loves Siamese cats; I’m more of a tabby guy (they’re nature’s B students). Scotty was referred to us by some friends with the Siletz Tribe, Crystal and Joe Scott, so he’s named in their honor. Being the democratically run household that we are, we name our cats through a collective vote by our five-human committee. Otherwise, we might’ve named him “Buckaroo Banzai.”

Boy, I really dated myself with that one.

Oh, and Scotty has thumbs! Someone told me that makes him a pterodactyl, but I’ve never seen him fly once. 

Why do you own cats, when people so often describe them as cold, distant, uncaring and ungrateful creatures who are probably right now scheming to kill you and those around you?

Wow, when you put it that way they sound like demons that’ve clawed their way from the depths of Hell into our soft, juicy — and probably delicious — human hearts. I prefer to think of them as cuddly versions of The Terminator minus the computerized targeting system. In a funny way, isn’t that their charm?

I love dogs too, but they seem almost too easy of a friend to make. With a cat, you have to earn their trust and respect over time. When I befriend any other type of pet, it’s like getting a trophy for just showing up and participating. But with a cat, it’s like finding yourself on the guest list of a swanky club and being allowed to enter past the velvet rope and bouncers into a flashy, pulsing dance floor filled with Greek gods and goddesses grinding to “Starry Night.”

Disclaimer: I’ve never been allowed into a swanky club.

But to that image you’ve described – most people who characterize cats as cold, uncaring and ungrateful just don’t get cats. They are among the warmest, friendliest and most loving creatures on the planet. I know, because half the time I have to pry them off my stomach or legs in the middle of the night – Sam burrows into my armpit, that weirdo – and they’ve all given me the special “mark.”

What’s the “mark?” 

Cats mark their possessions in two ways: One is to pee on it. Fortunately with people, they mostly mark the second way, with special scent glands in their cheeks, something called “bunting.” I’m happy to say I’ve been bunted by all five cats. So maybe I am on that exclusive club list after all. [Bull starts humming “Starry Night.”] 

What do your cats own? Do they have their own beds? Cat tree? Catio? Cat toys? Do they own you?

Our home has about six to eight cat perches and a scratching post. Probably 10 cat beds and two little cat houses — no, not that kind — one shaped like a pumpkin and another like a large black cat’s head. Countless cat toys and “chasers,” though occasionally the hapless mouse blunders into our home. I once lifted up a mattress we’d put aside for a house guest for a couple weeks, only to find a large mouse that had been slid underneath it and was now flat as pita bread.

As to ownership, yeah, we’re willing slaves to our mega-cat overlords. We should never have mentioned ancient Egypt. 

Do you read books about cats? What’s your favorite one?

The legendary humorist B. Kliban did a classic cartoon book in the ’70s called Cat. If you remember a drawing of a cat wearing sneakers, that’s the guy. I still have bed sheets somewhere imprinted with all those happy sneaker-wearing cats, and several Crazy Shirts™ that use many of his designs. 

My grandparents also had Wanda Gag’s classic children’s book Millions of Cats, which they read to me often growing up. So maybe five isn’t so excessive?

In high school, I read Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams, which is sort of a Watership Down-ish novel with Tolkienesque influences, but – with cats. Supposedly there’s an animated version coming out, though it’s been nearly a decade since that was first announced.

Have you seen the movie Cats? How many stars out of five would you give it?

No, and I’m horribly conflicted. Everything I’ve read about that movie screams surreal-nightmare-stinkburger, but I also love watching remarkably bad movies (I interned briefly for Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the ’90s). I will say that Cats director Tom Hooper completely ruined the film adaptation of Les Miserables by not recording songs in-studio and by casting Russell Crowe as Javert. That his latest film adaptation of a time-honored musical has been buried deep in the cinematic litter box is his just rewards, I guess.

If you want a fun cat movie to watch, I’d recommend Stephen King’s Cat’s-Eye (1985) or Hiroyuki Morita’s 2002 animated film, The Cat Returns. Anne Hathaway, Elliott Gould and Tim Curry are among the featured voices. 

How often are you tempted to add just one more cat to the family? What stops you?

To lift a classic Will Rogers line, I never met a cat I didn’t like. Trips to the pet store are always dangerous, because I always end up visiting the section where cats and kittens are awaiting adoption. But common sense says it’s always hard on the other cats we own to adapt and adjust to a new animal, and our household budget also dictates that we should limit our roster. It costs money to properly care for a pet, from basic needs like food and cat litter, to veterinary care and All. Those. Toys. And. Furniture.

I also don’t want to be “that person” who ends up on the news for having 200 cats in their house. That’s just not a safe or happy situation. Get your pets fixed, people! And know your limitations. 

Have you ever owned a dog?

Three. We had one many years ago when I lived in Spokane. I want to say his name was Rusty, and it was run over by a car. Another one disappeared when we lived in Lewiston. And yet another, an elkhound, was sold to someone after a while. Maybe that’s all part of my apprehension, all that loss ingrained in my fragile childhood.

But were I to explore having a dog again, I think I’d try a Labrador retriever or corgi. But our five-cat committee has unanimously shut such suggestions down, though they say I’m welcome to bring a goldfish into the house. I think for now I’ll just enjoy the occasional encounter I have with some of my KLCC colleagues’ dogs that appear at the station now and then.

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