Interviewed by Cathi Gerhard
News outlets around the world are writing about cats on the internet. My recent search found current articles by Forbes, The Guardian, Huffington Post, PBS, NPR, Slate and the Today Show (to name just a few). Everyone has heard of Grumpy Cat, right? Personally, as a lifelong “cat person,” I have “wasted” countless hours of my time looking at funny cat videos and websites (comedian Kathleen Madigan recommends “Cats Who Look Like Hitler”). My husband gave me a Crazy Cat Lady action figure for Christmas.
Over the holidays, while I was scanning You Tube, I stumbled upon a pair of cats who looked much like two of my own: a big, black cat and a small orange tabby named Cole & Marmalade. They have their own YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and a webpage on The Animalist. Rachel Ray Nutrish is even one of their sponsors! Not only are their videos creative and fun to watch, they are educational, too! I decided to contact their “dad,” Chris Poole, to find out more about the adorable duo.
How did this cat project get started?
My life revolved around cats of the small and large variety! I worked at a sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida for several years. I was an intern there, and they offered me the videographer job in May of 2008. It’s the world’s largest accredited sanctuary dedicated to exotic cats (home to over 100 lions, tigers, leopards and more!). They’ve rescued them from fur farms, circuses, roadside zoos and many are former “pets” that have been abandoned or abused.
I’ve always had domestic cats at home in England. My mum’s cat was named Sarah, and she was a very tolerant black cat (see photo at right of the two of us). I’m sure I must have annoyed the heck out of her as a little kid, but we always curled up on the couch with each other too. It’s probably why I love black cats so much!
Fast forward 20+ years when a friend of my wife and me found a tiny black kitten – now called Cole – at a busy Florida intersection in the evening all by himself and texted us a picture. We knew we had to bring him into our lives!
He was anemic and covered in fleas, so we had to bathe him and get him checked out at the vet. He was only around 5-6 weeks old, so he had to be bottle-fed and taught how to go to the bathroom and all that fun stuff! It was great to see him growup, and because we raised him from such a young age, he bonded with us so very closely and loves to snuggle with us!
Then, when I learned black cats are least likely to be adopted and most likely to be euthanized in animal shelters, I decided to use my video skills to do some good for domestic cats as I do for the big cats at the sanctuary. That’s when I started my “Cole The Black Cat” YouTube channel and began making videos (such as “10 Reasons to Adopt a Black Cat” ) including ones that promote spay, neuter and adoption. So I started filming Cole, making funny and educational videos and posting them to his YouTube channel.
Marmalade, our ginger kitty, was rescued from a friend of a friend. They didn’t want Marmalade, and I feared he’d end up in a shelter or living outside and adding to the feral cat problem. We’d also been thinking about adopting another cat for months, and when she sent us a pic of him, we decided it was fate and we had to adopt him!
What is your background in film?
I studied graphic design at university, but all of the video editing skills are self taught. I use Final Cut Pro to edit now, and have a couple of video cameras and a GoPro which I use now. But a couple of years ago, I just had the one $500 camcorder.
How did the partnership with Rachel Ray come about?
We are partnered with Animalist and Discovery Digital Networks. Companies approach them with products they would like to advertise online, and then Animalist contacts the appropriate video creators to see if they would be interested. I admire the work Rachael Ray is doing to help shelter animals animals, and Nutrish is natural food that the boys enjoy too.
You feature a lot of homemade toys and structures in your videos – where do you get the ideas?
My wife and I are very creative, and we’re always thinking of fun stuff to make for the boys to play in– like our epic cat castle and cat-proof christmas tree. It’s just so easy to make that stuff: cardboard, tape, scissors, glue. And it really keeps the cats enriched in their environment. Plus people enjoy watching the videos too.
What cat websites would you recommend to our readers?
The Animal Rescue Site is a great place for everything: articles, videos, shopping, and they do so much to help animals in need. (www.theanimalrescuesite.greatergood.com)
Scholars have written a lot about why we love cats on the internet so much. For example: “They transcend language and culture” (PBS.org). “We are still worshipping cats as gods much like the Egyptians” or “they are a psychological reflection of ourselves.” (Forbes.com). Why do you think cats are universally appealing?
You never know what to expect from them!
Has the popularity of the Cole & Marmalade videos changed your life?
It’s really cool, after building up their presence online for a couple of years now, to see the good stuff we are doing. And the good stuff other people are doing after watching our videos or seeing our posts on social sites: people adopting cats, building shelters for feral cats, and educating their friends and family about certain animal welfare issues. Plus, it gives me great pleasure when people enjoy our funny videos that I produce – and then see them getting shared, going viral, and seeing my cats on TV!
If you ever doubted their popularity, the success of your fundraising campaign comfirms it: tell us about Marmalade’s battle with cancer.
Well it was a total shock, because Marm is so young (1.5 yrs), but cats can hide things so well… We had just moved to California, and all of our belongings were still on the way. And now Marm was sick, so it was a stressful time… But we really have amazing supporters, and many of them suggested setting up an online FundRazr [.com] so people could contribute towards the emergency surgery costs to remove the tumor. So I set up a page, expecting to raise a few hundred dollars, but ended up raising more then the $4000 surgery costs. And then when Marm needed chemo treatments, I kept it running because people again wanted to help their favorite internet cat. And we ended up raising enough to cover all of Marmalade’s chemo costs as well. Truly amazing; and we’re so lucky to have the support which many others don’t.
How is Marmalade doing? I saw on Facebook that he recently received his final chemo treatment.
Yep, a few weeks ago, the sonogram showed that all was clear, and he had a few more treatments after that…. I figured we caught it early on, blasted the cancer away, and we have him on supplements and a great diet. Now we’re going to be looking at alternative treatments going forward… He’s doing very well, and he hates vet visits. There’s only so much little kitty bodies can take, so I’m very happy with the decision to stop chemo and look at alternatives to make sure he’s around for many more years to come!
I’m going to continue producing Cole & Marmalade videos, both fun vids and awareness/educational videos, and continue to help other animal welfare organizations whenever possible. I feel that I can reach a lot of people through my videos and do lots of good.
Cole & Marmalade look like a “black and gold” team. Have they ever visited Pittsburgh or considered endorsing the Steelers, Pirates or Penguins?
We’ve never been there, but of course we’d love to visit at some point in the future. Being a Brit and not a fan of sports (does that make me sound bad?!). I don’t really pay attention to much, but I was at the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa when the Steelers won. BUT I didn’t see any of the game since I was volunteering and selling beer for a big cat sanctuary I worked at back then!
Please giggle along with us by watching some of the hilarious Cole & Marmalade videos online. You’ll also find lots of great tips for projects to make at home for your own cats, as well as other inspirational topics. My own ginger tabby, Leon, also loves to watch the boys and their antics on the big TV screen (but he has little patience for the commercials in between each video).
I think Cole & Marmalade would be an excellent choice as the official team cats in the Steel City, and would love to invite them to make an appearance at the Laurel Mountain Post SteelersFest 2015 tent during Training Camp in Latrobe this summer! Of course, Marmalade needs a lot of time to recover this year, and we wish him the best of luck in his fight against cancer. In the meantime, we’ll stay in touch online – and you can too! Just visit one of the links listed below.