Photographer Spotlight: Adam Myatt, The Cat Man of West Oakland (Part I)

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Summer is here and the time is right for giving our Photographer Spotlight readers an in-depth look at TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) and how photography can help to raise awareness and support for community cats.

In our Photographer Spotlight posts we introduce you to photographers who are putting their lenses to amazing use for the benefit of animal shelters, rescue groups, and animal protection nonprofits. These photographers are members of the PFA photographer registry and they share their passion, and the power of images, in the service of animals in need.

Today’s photographer in the spotlight is Adam Myatt of West Oakland, California!

Adam Myatt at work. Photo by Glenn Jackson.

Adam Myatt, a.k.a. The Cat Man of West Oakland, is not your normal crazy cat lady. After taking photos of West Oakland’s feral cat population he found a litter of kittens that would drastically change the course of his life…The kittens lead him to Ann Dunn, the founder of non-profit organization Cat Town. Their meeting took Adam, Ann, and everyone on the Cat Town team, on a journey to open the Cat Town Cafe & Adoption Center… the first cat cafe and adoption center in the USA! Cat Town has had an amazing success in its efforts to empty cages, drastically lowered the euthanasia rate for cats in Oakland, and is connecting deserving cats with loving families.

A West Oakland kitty. Photo by Adam Myatt.

What is the origin story of “The Cat Man”?

“I had dabbled in photography a little bit in my high school yearbook class, but I didn’t really start taking photos of cats until I got an iPhone (a hand-me-down iphone 2 or 3 I think). A friend’s band went on tour and posted a few photos [on Instagram] of #catsontour… which I thought was a pretty fun and silly way to kill time between playing shows, so I continued the photo tag when my band, James & Evander, did a small West Coast tour in 2010.

“Sometime around then my band mate Glenn and I moved into our current house in West Oakland, and I just kept seeing cats everywhere! Some of the cats were friendly, some more cautions, and all pretty street smart (and some pretty street worn…), I was posting photos with #cats(not)ontour, which is a pretty horrible tag, and since @neighborhoodcats was taken, the @Hoodcats account was born!”

“We used this image for a music project we released as Hoodcats too. We made it when Glenn, myself, and our friend Matt, all lived in the same house together… It’s pretty ridiculous music, but it’s one of my favorite projects I’ve been a part of!” Photo by Adam Myatt.

How involved with photography were you at this point?

“Like I said, I was just taking photos with my phone and wasn’t really thinking too much of it, other than that it was cool to be gaining trust with a few of the more wary feral guys, and I thought it was really interesting how different all of the cats personalities were. After a year or so of taking and posting photos, some friends suggested I make a calendar or merchandise or something, because some of the photos I was taking were actually pretty good!”

Photo by Adam Myatt

 

“Being the broke musician that I was, I wasn’t really in a position spend money on making cat merchandise, but was encouraged to try making a Kickstarter [fundraiser] for the project. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, and wanted to get funds to make just 100 calendars… if no one wanted them, no big deal. Turns out, people did want them, and I got the funding in just a few days!”

The Cat Man discovers his super powers. Photo by Dan Casey.

 

Feral Cat Superhero, No Cape Required

“That’s when our weekly paper [covered the project and] dubbed me ‘The Cat Man of West Oakland‘ and I’ve just sorta ran with it. After the Cat Man article came out, I was inspired to learn more about feral cat colonies, TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return], and various Oakland rescues. More importantly I was inspired to help these cats and do something positive for the city and community that I love. I had read about this cool foster based rescue called Cat Town, that was based in Oakland and focused on finding homes for special needs cats and the more semi-feral/harder to adopt cats from the Oakland city shelter. I wanted to foster for them, but since my roommate Glenn is allergic, I wasn’t really in a place to help that way…”

 

“Cat Man, can you save me?” Photo by Adam Myatt.

“After finding a RIDICULOUSLY cute litter of kittens, I knew that SOMEONE would want to give these little guys a home and I reached out to Ann Dunn, the founder of Cat Town. Ann came and helped me trap the litter of kittens, as well as some of the adults to get TNR’d (some of them got adopted too!).”

Photo by Adam Myatt

The Cat Cafe

“A few weeks passed after snagging the kittens, Ann and I e-mailed back and forth for a bit trying to figure out ways we could collaborate, and decided to meet for coffee in late 2013. We bonded over our love for Oakland, and Ann told me about the history of Cat Town, the different ideas she had for the organization, and about a trip I was planning to Tokyo. I was going to visit some friends who had recently moved there, visit the fabled feral cat islands, and check out these things called ‘cat cafes’ where people paid to drink coffee in the company of cats. I had dove pretty far into the Google-rabbit-hole on the subject, and realized that no one had opened a cat cafe in the US yet… Ann explained she had always wanted to have a brick and mortar adoption space for Cat Town, and we basically decided then and there that we would try to open the first cat cafe in the USA, and unlike the cat cafe’s in Japan and Europe, it would be an adoption center too!”

Dango, one of the 3 kittens adopted at the first pop-up adoption event held by Cat Town. Photo by Adam Myatt.

Bicycle Coffee owner, Cameron McKee, serving pour-over coffee outside of the Naming Gallery during a pop-up adoption event. Photo by Adam Myatt.

Race to the Start

“The cat cafe concept was brewing in other cities too, San FranciscoPortlandNew York, and more… so a bit of a Cat Cafe Space Race began! We launched our crowdfunding page in Jan. 2014, and hosted the first two cat cafe pop-up’s with our friends from Bicycle Coffee providing the coffee, Cat Town providing the cats, and a few art galleries hosted our kittens in their space in Feb. and March of 2014. Purina held a pop-up in New York that April too, which added a ton of hype as the cat cafe concept spread more.”

Tokyo Calling…

“I took my trip to Japan in April that year, which was… AMAZING.”

“This is gotta be one of the largest cat statues in the world!” Photo by Adam Myatt.

Photo by Adam Myatt

Photo by Adam Myatt

“I had convinced my buddy Sean to tag along with me, and we made a pretty ridiculous documentary about the whole trip… We called it ‘Catcations : Cat Man Goes To Japan,’ and it covers our trek to 12 different cat cafes, and two of the feral cat islands, as well as a bunch of other fun aspects of the cat-culture in Japan.”

“One of my favorite cat cafe’s of the whole trip, Temari No Ouchi!” Photo by Adam Myatt.

Back in Oakland…

“Things moved pretty quickly when I came back from the trip, we signed our lease in July of 2014, built out our mini-catified version of Oakland, and opened to the public on October 25th… marking the first permanent cat cafe and adoption center in the USA!”

Cat Town. Photo by Adam Myatt.

 

Eastwood hanging around outside a cat sized version of the Tribune Tower. Photo by Adam Myatt.

Cats getting ready to take over Cat Town. Photo by Adam Myatt.

New cats cruising the streets of Cat Town’s Cat Zone. Photo by Adam Myatt.

“The cafe has found homes for hundreds of Oakland cats, drastically decreased the euthanasia rate for our [municipal] shelter, and expanded the foster program for the cats that wouldn’t do well in the cafe’s community/colony environment. Cat Town recently received a grant from Maddie’s Fund, which is allowing them to expand into the neighboring unit at the adoption center, and increase the amount of cats that won’t have to be sitting in cages at the shelter!”

BAM! Cat Man helped save the day for Oakland cats! What will Cat Man do next? Will the Hoodcats calendar become a yearly phenomenon? Where else will Cat Man appear? You’ll have to wait for part two of the story, same cat time, same cat channel. And if you’re a photographer or shelter/rescue organization and would like to be part of the Photographers for Animals program, please visit our webpage to learn more!