Three things helped get me through the dark early days of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
The first was beer — more of it than usual and of a higher grade than usual. If the world was truly coming to an end, I was determined to see it through with a beer buzz.
The second thing I leaned on was the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler’s 5th Symphony, specifically its gentle waterfall-like conclusion. It calmed me down, and if the world was truly coming to an end, I wanted that artistic serenity to accompany the beer buzz.
Most of all, though, I had my cats — and they were never more important than during this bleak time. I talked and played with them relentlessly and at all hours, confined as I mostly was to my apartment. Marta, her son Alexander, and Sergei became more than my “kids.” They became my counselors and confidants, both in whispered musings and in normal conversation. Honestly, they know more about me than most any person does; I might have lost my mind without them.
I have been teased about my adoration of felines these past 25 years (nine cats overall), and I have from time to time wondered how many crazy cat dads are out there. Or am I one of the crazy ones for my obsession with cats?
I’m not crazy at all, as Mye Hoang helpfully points out. The director of Cat Daddies, a 2021 documentary now playing at Art House, lays out a heart-warming collective portrait of eight men, not unlike me, who are scattered throughout the country and whose lives have been changed by cats. They will do anything for their cats. One of the men, frankly, will use the thought of reuniting with his cat, after nine months away in 2020, to help keep him focused during illness and multiple surgeries.
The men featured in Cat Daddies come from all socio-economic backgrounds, and their cats reflect each man’s passion.
There are cats who have intense social media followings that could be the envy of human celebrities. In Los Angeles, actor Nathan Kehn (“Nathan The Cat Lady” on social media) has Pickles, Ginger, Annie and Princess up to various antics that will make you smile. Also on Facebook and Instagram is Keys, a tuxedo otherwise known as Goalkitty, whose talents just have to be seen. She will brighten your day.
There are the outdoorsy cats who love to hike with their humans, including Zulu, a rescue who starts his life as a kitten in the Bay Area, then moves to Boulder Creek, California, and, after escaping wildfires and mudslides in 2020 with her man, Jeff Judkins, is now back in the Bay Area.
There are the working cats, too. Flame is an orange and white sweetheart who made himself at home at a fire station in Greenville, South Carolina. “He slowly won the hearts of everyone here,” says firefighter Jordan Lide. Flame has his own locker with a nameplate: Flame The Arson Cat.
Then there’s Tora, or “Tora The Trucker Cat” on social media, who has ridden shotgun with her man, David Durst, since 2019 through 46 states and more than 300,000 miles.
Two men — Ryan Robertson and Will Zweigart — have taken their new love and appreciation for cats to a different level, trapping cats for the purpose of spaying and neutering them. Robertson, who lives in Atlanta and works as a Hollywood stunt double, is in the learning stages of his new role. Zweigart is the founder of the Brooklyn, New York-based nonprofit Flatbush Cats.
The heart-wrenching thread of Cat Daddies, though, is the story of David Giovanni and his cat Lucky.
Giovanni is a native of the country of Georgia who immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 and worked in construction in New York City. He lost his job and had been homeless since 2018, when Hoang and her team caught up to him in 2020.
I won’t give away the ending, but I have never rooted so hard for an individual and an animal. Giovanni and Lucky work to save each other through horrendous health and living circumstances. They are family.
Their story is what gives Cat Daddies a special depth, and it’s the reason you should see the film.
Cat Daddies plays through Feb. 9 at Art House, 492 E. 13th Avenue. Times and ticket prices are at EugeneArtHouse.com.