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When Courtney and her partner rented a home in Tucson, Arizona, they didn’t know it would come complete with squatters they would have to feed twice a day. Thirty of them in fact — all of the four-legged feline variety. Little did they know, these uninvited guests would become internet celebrities (930K-plus followers on TikTok) and pay for the down payment on their first home.
Even after Courtney, who asked that her last name not be included in this piece, moved in, there wasn’t a cat in sight. Then, ever so slowly, she and her partner began spotting them outside their home. First one, then another — they seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Some were hungry, some were sick, and others were visibly pregnant. There were 30 in all, many of whom were quite friendly. The couple began feeding the cats — whom they eventually came to call the “Poets Square” colony. But when one of them was hit and killed by a car, they needed to do more to protect these cats — and quickly.
A Surprise Rescue Effort
That’s when Courtney, with the help of the rescue community, began her Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) efforts. The friendly cats were adopted out, and Courtney continued to care for the feral cats who remained. Finally, after months of patience and hard work, the colony was down to eight cats. She occasionally received visitors from neighboring colonies — Jurgen, Karl Havoc, Banjo, and Crunchwrap Supreme, to name a few. Courtney immediately trapped new arrivals to spay and neuter them.
Courtney originally created the Instagram account @poetssquarecats with the intent of keeping her dad, a fellow cat lover, up-to-date on the antics of her motley crew. It also became a good outlet for her to connect with other cat lovers who enjoyed the colony’s daily antics.
Then, about a year ago, the cats became Instagram famous. It was Thanksgiving, and Courtney made a special meal for the cats. She dished up mini servings of roasted organic Cornish hens, vegetables and gravy, and mashed potatoes (all cat-safe of course!) on fancy little plates and shared it on the Instagram page.
The internet couldn’t resist the sight of neighborhood cats being hand-delivered tiny Thanksgiving meals off a tray. The video quickly became the number-one post on Reddit and was picked up in Newsweek. Courtney’s following grew overnight, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world became invested in these outdoor cats and wanted daily updates. Courtney delivered.
Let’s take a moment to meet some of the principal cast of cats.
Colony patriarch. An ancient white cat with a big wise face, he doesn’t like humans, but he has learned to enjoy wet food and comfortable beds that he shares with the love of his life, Lola.
Sad boy’s wife. Lola lives for Sad Boy and can usually be spotted on the roof cuddling with him as the sun goes down. She’s particularly wary of Courtney and always has an eye out to make sure she’s not trying to move in on her territory, a.k.a. Sad Boy.
Tiny calico who sleeps with her paws in the air, usually with her favorite yellow mouse toy by her side. MK most recently made headlines when, to Lola’s dismay, she tried “befriending” Sad Boy.
Playful calico with a tiny head, who spends most of her time napping with her tongue sticking out. Her primary hobby consists of chasing rocks around the yard.
With Fame, Came Challenges
As the cats shot to meteoric fame, Courtney and her partner received some bad news. Their landlord had suddenly decided to sell the home they’d been renting. They couldn’t afford the down payment. Purchasing a home wasn’t something on their radar. But what could they do? They panicked. Moving all the cats would be an undertaking, and it didn’t seem right to remove them from the only home they knew. But what if the new homeowners didn’t want to care for them? The carport at the house had become a safe space, where the cats could relax in beds and take shelter in inclement weather — not to mention receive two meals a day.
Things were moving quickly, and Courtney wanted to let her almost one million followers in on what was happening. Unsolicited, Courtney began receiving donations through the PayPal account she originally set up for followers who wanted to help with the cost of cat food. Eventually, she created a GoFundMe and set a goal of $5K, which she felt was very ambitious.
Fans Come to the Rescue
To Courtney’s amazement, Poets Square Cats hit their goal in less than an hour, and fans begged Courtney to raise the GoFundMe limit. Between TikTok and Instagram, the fundraiser received $50,000 in donations in under a day. Courtney and her partner had been speaking to a mortgage lender about their situation and suddenly had to explain how eight cats had raised funds for their down payment in less than 24 hours. The colony still remains in Courtney’s care.
Shortly after closing on their home, Courtney began working to TNR another colony of cats she lovingly named the “Big Cheddar” colony, while also coordinating supply drives for underfunded rural shelters in the area. She also continues to care for the remaining eight members of the “Poets Square” colony. Several of her social media followers reached out to tell her she’s inspired them to become involved in cat rescue.
While she doesn’t envision herself starting her own feline non-profit, Courtney wants to continue educating others on the importance of TNR. No shock — she’s got several stars on her hands — she’s currently working on a book about the cats who have changed her life.
Because rescue kitties deserve your crowdfunding cash, too.
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Tamar Arslanian is founder of the popular blog IHAVECAT and author of the book Shop Cats of New York written-up in the New York Times, USA Today and New York Post. She has consulted pet brands on marketing and social media, written for numerous outlets (i.e., Buzzfeed, Dodo, Catster), and shares her home with two rescue cats and the occasional foster. For her day job, Tamar has served as vice president of account management at numerous high-profile New York City advertising agencies.