On the grass by the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain, a crowd of several dozen people parted down the middle as a retired show cat, looking remarkably like a small lion, strutted down the path.
The cat who stole everyone’s attention — Snickers — was later passed around gently from person to person as they each took their turn holding him and getting a photo.
Many people brought their feline friends to Schenley Plaza for an event dubbed “First Caturday,” originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 2, but postponed until Labor Day due to weather. The event — which spread via Facebook and had a turnout of about a dozen cats — aimed to get people to bring their cats into the great outdoors and to socialize.
The cats organized the event, according to Caturday’s event description on Facebook. Besides advising fellow cats to care responsibly for their humans, the emoji-filled description said the event is for cat-owners to help each other make their pets happier and healthier, and to make friends in the process.
Rebecca Herald and Jon Moore — Snickers’ owners — looked on as their cat made several new human friends.
“He was a retired show cat that I rescued,” Herald said. “He won Grand Premiership in 2002 and 2003 at The Cat Fanciers’ Association Cat Show. So we have his awards hanging on the fridge like proud parents.”
Snickers was the most popular cat, but he wasn’t alone — about a dozen other cats scattered across the area. Some were on leashes, others sat in their owners’ arms and a few stayed firmly in their carriers — possibly overwhelmed by the sizable event.
One of these carrier-bound scaredy-cats was Pittsburgh resident Cassandra Morris’ pet Niko, a black and white cat with his moniker printed neatly on a metal tag hanging from his collar. Niko remained in his carrier, observing the excitement around him and sipping water to stay cool in the 80 degree heat.
“He’s two years old and he’s leash trained,” Morris said. “We go on walks in our backyard. I’ve taken him to a park before, but never one with so many people. He’s a little overwhelmed.”
Morris wasn’t put off by Niko’s slight fear, though, saying that she’s always looking for ways to make him more of an adventure cat.
Other guests included Kimchi, a little gray cat who spent the afternoon hanging out on people’s shoulders, and, oddly enough, a ferret sporting a bright lime-green leash. Although the ferret wasn’t a cat, attendees still crowded around it, trying to get a look.
Not all of the people present brought a pet — cat or ferret. Many were there simply to meet the animals and spend some time with them. A lot of these people were students, including Claire Hickey, a sophomore at Pitt majoring in mathematics.
“I actually haven’t had a cat since I was seven because that’s when she died, unfortunately, so I’ve had dogs ever since,” Hickey said. “But I just thought taking a break from something as tedious as calc II and coming to pet a nice, soft, furry kitty would be a great way to spend a day off from school.”
A lot of college students don’t get to spend time with animals, living most of their undergrad years in dorms or apartments that aren’t pet friendly. A local event like Caturday gives students the opportunity to see some friendly pets and take comfort in their presences — something Julissa Brown, a sophomore and nursing major at Pitt, appreciates.
“I personally have a cat at home — [a] fat, orange guy. Last year one of the hardest parts about college was not having that companionship anymore,” Brown said. “So it’s nice — I didn’t know this existed.”
Hopefully these students — and other members of the community — will continue to show up at these get-togethers. There is another Caturday event on Oct. 7, so students can spend another Saturday afternoon meeting new felines.
Hickey and Brown both quickly had Snickers the show cat in their arms, finding warm, fuzzy solace in his smushed-in face. While spending quality time with Snickers, Brown ruminated on the size of the crowd, and her voice took on a level of good-natured snark.
“This just shows that dog people are not superior, that cat people exist and that cats can be normal and nice and friendly and socialize,” Brown said.