The first time I saw the Zee & Zoey blog, I thought, this is different. On a midnight black background melting into chocolate brown sat two stunning cats and an equally stunning blonde, named Deb Barnes in a leopard print outfit. The elegantly designed blog is nominated this year for the Pettie award for Best Blog Design Dogtime.com/petties
Deb is yet another reason the image of the crazy cat lady is being redefined as fun, fearless and hip. I was delighted she took time from her busy schedule to have a warm chat via telephone. You don’t need to be psychic to sense she is truly passionate about cats and their welfare.
LMW: Who was your very first feline love?
DB: My first cat love that I remember was from when I was 4 or 5 years old – Gigi-fluffy-Sharon. Pronounced as one word – she was fluffy and I had two friends named Gigi and Sharon! First movie love – Marie from Aristocats. First TV love – the original Cat Woman – Eartha Kitt on Batman (yes, I’m dating myself).
LMW: You’ve written a book about you two cats Zee (Maine Coon) and Zoey (Bengal). Can you tell how and when they came into your life?
DB: My fiancé, Dan, had a Maine Coon at one point in his life that he spoke about frequently with great fondness. Before Dan moved in to my house, he was going through a very rough emotional situation and I felt getting him a Maine Coon as a “welcome home” gift would be perfect for him and that is how and why I got Zee. As far as Zoey, for most of my life, I have been labeled as “Elly May.” At one point I had 5 dogs, 4 cats, a rabbit, and a frog. The majority of these animals were strays or rescues. As time moved on, my dogs had all since passed and I became very intrigued with a new breed of cat I had heard about – the Bengal.
My love of all things leopard was no surprise – I had graduated from Elly May to Peg Bundy – and it was a dream of mine to get a Bengal one day when the time was right. I waited until the passing of my 18 year old tabby cat, Kit, because I did not want to upset an ailing elder cat with a young kitten. When Kit finally passed on, Zee went through a very naughty phase and needed a younger playmate. That is how and why we finally got my dream cat, Zoey.
LMW: When did you first realize cats were a creative muse for you?
DB: While I am a strong proponent of spaying and neutering, Zee and Zoey beat me to the vet and decided they wanted a family and Zoey had 4 beautiful kittens. It was during this incredible experience that I started to document the kittens growth and Zee and Zoey’s relationship with each other with pictures and brief little stories that I would send to family and friends each week in emails. I started to look forward to this creative outlet and found that I had quite a knack and talent to write about them with a lot of heartfelt emotion and humor! People started to clamor for more writing and more stories, which inspired me to seriously think about writing a book.
LMW: Tell us a little about your current cat family of seven. It’s rare for feline parents and their offspring to live together as a family. How do you make it work?
DB: It’s not always easy – often I feel like we have a family of seven active toddlers living in the house, but, for the most part, it really is not difficult, especially when you love them so much. Because the other four cats (Jazz has been with me for years, then Harley, then Zee, then Zoey) were already acclimated to one another – when the kittens came, they became a daily part of our life and not just three new cats that came into the household, which would have been ridiculously disruptive. Zee adores his children and the siblings are inseparable. Zoey has her moments of exasperation – in her mind, they should have moved out years ago, but deep down, she still knows she is Mama and she loves them very much. We really try to keep everything as routine as possible – feeding times, etc., and that really seems to help as well.
LMW: Do you volunteer at a shelter or for any cat-related cause?
DB: I currently donate financially to several local and national shelters and work directly with Family Pet Central to raise money for the local Broward County Humane Society. Also, as a result of my current blogging and the Petties, I have started to become involved with the Cat Network of South Florida and will be looking to do volunteer work with them as well as to act as a voice to champion pet adoptions and increasing public awareness on spaying and neutering, which I am extremely excited about.
LMW: Cat hoarding is an issue in this country. How many cats do you feel is too many? Would you add to your existing family?
DB: There is no one answer to that question. I think everyone that has a cat, should have at least two. Some people live in very small apartments, so two is a good number so that the cat has a company. If you have a bigger place and can comfortably take care of the cats, I think three or four cats is ideal. For Dan and I, seven cats works, but we have a unique situation – Dan is self-employed and is able to be at home with our large crew to give them the time and support they need. Loving, feeding, and keeping the litter clean is a lot of work and most people could not handle seven cats. While I hate thinking so many cats deserve a good home, right now I would prefer not to add to our existing family. We have a very harmonious balance at the moment and a new cat would seriously rock the boat with adverse results – urine spraying, aggression, litter problems, furniture destruction, resentments, jealousies, and so much more.
LMW: Do you think what defines a “cat lover” is changing in terms of age or gender?
DB: Absolutely! I’ve read this over and over, but Jackson Galaxy and John Fulton are clearly paving the way to what is no longer a trend, but a positive reality. Men are starting to appreciate and love cats for their intelligence and unique personalities. And actually, maybe they have all along, it’s just that now the public accepts that love and actually applauds it. I love it!! When you read my book, you will see that Dan is actually crazier than I when it comes to cats!
LMW: You look like a stylish woman who looks good in leopard print. Do you consider yourself a crazy cat lady, and do you think the definition of that term is changing?
DB: While I am prone to being a bit leopard obsessive and might even appear to be quite flamboyant, I am actually quite shy and a true Libra who doesn’t like her world to be off balance. I have enormous common sense and am a rationale and even-tempered person. I’ve been called a lot of things, but crazy is not one of them. I like to consider myself a compassionate, caring, and devoted cat lady who is respectful and adoring of this amazing species. Or, how about a passionate cat lady? Yes, the term is definitely changing.
LMW: There is much heated discussion about what to feed cats; with advocates for feeding raw, grain-free, wet, dry, organic and so on. Even vets can’t seem to agree. What do you feed your cats and why?
DB: My cats currently get dry food during the day – I currently use a Science Diet blend that both Zee and Zoey’s breeders recommended. At night, they get dry food mixed with a bit of canned. I use Friskies “Special Diet” only because I had a cat once that had to have surgery due to urine crystallization. This brand eliminated that problem all together and I have used it for over twenty-five years.
LMW: There is an explosion of new books about cats on the market. What advice would you give for a first time cat owner to read or do before adopting?
DB:Don’t adopt just based on the look of a cat – some breeds are much more active than others, some are more high maintenance, some mix well with dogs and children and some don’t. Obviously, if you are getting a stray, sometimes you don’t know what the breed is. In that case, you have to be patient with your cat and think like a cat, rather than a person. As Jackson Galaxy would tell you – more times than not, bad behavior in a cat can be corrected with the right environment. Read us as much as you can before you make a decision, so that you and kitty can be happy for many, many years. No one wants to see that cat back in a shelter or on the streets.
LMW: Any must-have cat toys your cats can’t live without?
DB: My toes, a paper bag, a wadded up piece of paper, fake mice, and the laser pen!
LMW: Cat culture is growing, as is cat blogging and cat-related products. Where do you see this trend headed?
DB: I see it heading in a very positive direction. It is clear that there is an enormous audience devoted to felines and feline products. Cats have twitter and Facebook accounts, they blog, and they rule the world. Having more than one cat in a household will become more and more common which is a very good thing. Cat people also like to spend money, which means more and more research devoted to quality products for our pets.
LMW: Many see cats as spiritual teachers. What have your cats taught you?
DB: My cats have taught me to look for the silver lining moments in life. They have taught me not to get so wrapped up in things or drama. Years ago, maybe I would get upset if my couch got scratched. Now, I really don’t care. It’s just an object. Them sleeping on my lap and purring gives me far more joy than anything material. They have also taught me to really appreciate all the little everyday ordinary things in life and to reinterpret them as extraordinary. They keep me calm, centered, content, and happy.
LMW: Tell us more about your blog, Zee & Zoey’s Chronicle Connection. When did you start it and why?
DB: It started in last October in conjunction with the book I was writing – The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey – as a way to discuss all the behind the scenes making of the book. I thought people would be interested in learning about how a book is created from start to finish – from writing to publishing and that is how it all started. I also wanted to introduce everyone to the Zee/Zoey clan. Just to let you know – Jazz is a male Ragdoll who I got in 1998 for Mother’s Day, Harley is a female tortie rescue I got in 2004, Zee we got in 2005, Zoey we got in 2008, and the kittens, Mia (F), Peanut (F), Rolz (M), and Zeuss (M) were born on February 12, 2009. We kept all three kittens except Zeuss who lives in Boston with a good friend of ours.
LMW: You have two big things to celebrate 1) Your blog was nominated in the best designed blog category at the Petties. 2) You won the photo caption contest for an all expenses paid trip to attend the Petties and the BlogPaws conference in August. Who designed the blog and what are you most looking forward to at Blogpaws?
DB: Yippee! So many exciting things are happening that I can’t even believe it sometimes! I feel like Cinderella when she put on the glass slipper! Everything related to Zee and Zoey is the inspiration and brain child of mine – I’m just blessed to have enormously talented people around me to help my vision come to life. Dan is responsible for most of the stunning pictures I have of the cats – he used to be a photographer for a Boston newspaper and has an incredible way with the camera. Because the cats have such implicit trust in him, they really act natural around him, which makes the pictures all the better.
As far as the blog, my vision was translated via my dear friend and graphic designer, Madalina Iordache-Levay of Bright Pink Studio BrightPinkStudio.com She is able to reach into the depths of my mind and exquisitely transform my thoughts into a wonderland of magic, enchantment, and whimsical cat fancy.
I am most looking forward to meeting everyone! I feel such a bond and kinship to so many people that I am meeting via blogs and Facebook and cannot wait to meet them in person and share in the passion and excitement that we have for our beloved felines!