There are a bunch of strangers gathered around tables in Rojo. They’re drinking margaritas, deep in conversation with one another, swapping photos and anecdotes, gleaning from others’ experiences and explaining their own. Many of them are thinking, “I’ve found my people.”
Their fearless leader, Lindsay Ellinas, is probably wearing a tail. A kitty cat tail.
These people are those brought together by the Facebook group Magic City Kitties, a space Ellinas dreamed up in February 2016. She thought she’d create a place for cat lovers to unite—at least those cat lovers that she knew—and she invited some of her friends to join and share pictures of their furry friends (but cats only). “As silly as it sounds, I love taking pictures of my cats and talking about them,” she explains. “I didn’t want to share the photos and insights with everyone because I didn’t think they would be widely appreciated. But I imagined there might be a few folks out there who would humor my habit.” You could say that she has been humored.
Since its inception, Magic City Kitties has grown from a few dozen people to nearly 3,000. Every day, hundreds of people post their own cat photos, videos, memes, questions, and comments to the page. They swap stories of the silly things their cats love doing: drinking water out of faucets, fetching aluminum foil balls (yes, my cat does this!), barking at sparrows out the window. They ooh and ah over each other’s snapshots of their kitties. What’s more, a number of abandoned cats and kittens have found homes because of members’ posts on the page.
Ellinas says that the community her page has created for cat lovers is certainly more than she had in mind, though she’s delighted it’s taken on a life of its own. “I initially thought that I might have about 16 to 20 friends who were as fanatical about cats as I am, and they might be interested in nerding out with me,” she says. “I did not think it would become much other than another basic Facebook group of inconsistent activity. I definitely did not think the group would grow so popular. MCK has definitely developed into a community.”
Posts on the page have also helped multiple kittens get rescued, and others feature subjects such as a favorite local pet store, what veterinarian they prefer, or how to get a discounted spay/neuter certificate. “Many people feel they can reach out for advice about behavioral or health concerns,” Ellinas says. “Each post has been met with responses that are clearly coming from a place of genuine concern for each animal. There is no kitty shaming in this group.”
One of the reasons the page has become so popular is because in a sea of negative Facebook posts (Magic City Kitties was appropriately timed during an election year), MCK is utterly positive. If you love cats—and if you don’t, well, you don’t know what you’re missing—you can’t help but smile as you scroll past photos of Astro and Piggs (Ellinas’s own cats) or Scout and Francie (mine).
Jeff Moore, dad to Puff Kitty and Camillo, says viewing MCK posts is the best part of the time he’s on Facebook. He appreciated the group so much that he began to take an active role on the page and is now an administrator, approving member requests and moderating posts. He also designed the group’s logo. “I take the responsibility very seriously,” Moore says. “The quality of the group experience depends on the admins’ success. We maintain a certain homogeneity in the membership by requiring a connection to the Magic City, and we keep the discussion civil and kitty-oriented. I know we are doing a good job by the
expressions of gratitude we get from our members.”
One such member is Phil Doster, who is better known in the group by his cat’s name, MurderCat. “MurderCat, once known as Dahlia Doster, earned her moniker over the years,” Doster explains. “MurderCat came to live with me over seven years ago as a kitten. She was one of many sick, unvaccinated kittens that ended up at Birmingham’s Animal Control facility. I thought I was taking her home temporarily just to get her better, but she decided she was home. She picked on the dogs of the house as a kitten, but eventually decided that ruling them outweighed tormenting them. She would occasionally make an outside escape, which stressed me out, but she rewarded me for her field trips with gifts of mice, birds, chipmunks, and even a squirrel.
“That’s where her name originated, but she continues to perpetuate the embodiment of her name. In 2012, while recovering from reconstructive surgery on my foot, MurderCat (I still contest that she did this purposefully) knocked my crutches out from underneath me, toppling me down a flight of stairs. I suffered a broken rib, a concussion, and a rather large laceration on my forehead from crashing into the brick wall at the bottom of the stairs. When I regained consciousness, MurderCat was perched on my shoulder, licking the blood from my head. That day cemented her name and supervillainy forever. I still love her…and she makes the choice each day to let me live.”
Doster’s MurderCat posts are eagerly anticipated by MCK followers. He posts often of her antics and interacts on others’ posts as well. Magic City Kitties, he says, is a place on the internet where one can not only find a reprieve, but find others who have similar interests. “MCK is a genuine escape from the political, dramatic, and overly opinionated harshness of social media,” Doster says. “People associated with MCK have bought in to the idea of celebrating their own cats, while simultaneously adoring and appreciating the uniqueness of others’ cats also. The camaraderie of cat ownership is not just about the cats, it is the self-deprecating humility of knowing that sometimes we really are ‘crazy cat people,’ but being totally okay with it.”
The MCK community has become so tight-knit that Ellinas decided to start organizing Magic City Kitties meet-ups, gatherings where members could get together and build on the friendships that have begun over mutual kitty love. Their first took place at Satellite, where more than 50 people (plus two kitties) attended. The second, which Ellinas organized due to popular demand, took place at Rojo and was also a raging success. “Once we reached an impressive amount of members in the group, people started to form online friendships with complete strangers based off this love of cats,” she says. “There were multiple requests for a group meet-up. I set the event up with a date and time and the response was more positive than I anticipated so we had to move the location to a larger venue. Several people introduced themselves as their cats’ owners, which cracked me up: ‘Hi, I’m MurderCat.’”
Moore suggests that the meet-ups have an even bigger impact than shared kitty love. He says that for many members, they’re a great place to meet similar people with whom they might not have otherwise connected. “The meet-up serves an important purpose in the group. As ‘cat people’ with cat-like tendencies, we might keep to ourselves,” he says. “The meet-up is a safe place to interact with each other in real time and to get to know each other better. As a result of these enriched relationships, the group is strengthened. Members who have met in person will often friend each other afterward, and the whole community benefits from the increase in connectivity.”
Doster agrees that Magic City Kitties is much more than a Facebook page now. Sure, lots of posts are made there each day, always about the delightful creature that is the cat, but it’s also a place for friends to meet—you know, as long as they don’t mind hairballs occasionally. Doster has become good friends with people he met through the community.“I feel like MCK folks represent the cat personalities well,” he continues. “I said that cats are weird, and that’s endearing. I feel the same way about our MCK members. The group was started to share the lives of our cats, but through the goodness and uniqueness of other cat owners, I’ve come to care as much about them as their cats…almost.”