Christina Ha, Mr. Socks, Pickle & Tia

XJ8A0796aI had a lot of pets growing up — hamsters, turtles, dogs, fish, and even parakeets — but not cats. A childhood friend of mine had a cat, but she moved away when I was 7 so I never interacted with a cat again until my early 20s, when I discovered that I’m quite allergic to them. So, I never had a reason to get to know cats.

In 2013, about 9 months after opening our first Macaron Parlour, my husband Simon and I sometimes saw a tuxedo cat lying down on the ground on our way home from work. We were in the middle of a heat wave and would see both the tuxedo and a squirrel trying to cool off by sprawling on the sidewalk. After the second time, my husband told me that he thought Mr. Socks (he named him!) needs a home and we should take him. I wasn’t very into that idea because of my allergies, but I figured I could indulge him by letting him buy some cat food and fantasize about being a cat owner.

One day, he dropped me off at home and went to park the car. He called me frantically and said he found Mr. Socks so he wanted me to bring down the cat food. In a panic, I grabbed both the food and a laundry bag because I wasn’t sure how we were supposed to catch the cat.

When I got there, he had found a grey and white kitten — who was half the size and a different color from the cat he originally named Mr. Socks. But this kitten was friendly, meowing at us, rubbing against our legs while alternating between the cans of food. So I picked him up, rolled him up in my t-shirt and went back to my apartment. We weren’t sure what to do so we locked him in the shower, bought a few supplies at the corner deli, and braced ourselves for the adventure ahead. (We never saw original Mr. Socks again.)

We changed our entire lives for him. I have taken Benadryl every single day since the day we rescued him 5 years ago. We changed the scheduling in the kitchen so I could get home in time to play with him and we beamed with pride when he got an $8 discount at the vet for good behavior. One of our greatest joys was trying to stack items on him while he slept to see how high the pile would get before he woke up. It was a group effort where even the Macaron Parlour employees got involved — donating a crate and carrier for him, bringing reading material on cat behavior to work, and helping us navigate the joys of having a cat.XJ8A0955a_We weren’t really looking to get him a companion, but now that I was converted to the ways of the cat ladies, I wanted to go window shopping at Adoptapalooza. Two months after finding Mr. Socks, we came home with Pickle. We picked a kitten that looked sort of like Mr. Socks so we could create an artificial family.

Pickle is everything that Mr. Socks is not. Mr. Socks is mellow, independent, and only crazy for food. Pickle grazes at his meals so Mr. Socks helpfully finishes them for him. Pickle picks up on things right away and is most likely to get into a place where you didn’t think a cat would go. He plays fetch and leans in when I ask for kisses. He is also obsessed with me. He will fight me to be able to sit in my lap and he talks to me while I shower. He also sits by the door and wails if I don’t get home by 9:30 pm, even if there are other people at home. I video chat him when I’m out of town and I have to trust that he’s there because he spends most of his time with his face pressed against mine on the screen. While Mr. Socks taught me to love cats for their independence and companionship, Pickle showed me the human-animal bond and it made me want to help others make that special match.XJ8A0812aMeow Parlour started as a joke. After a tattoo shop cleared out across the street of Macaron Parlour, I would joke that it would be nice if there were cats across the street. Emilie, who was working at Macaron Parlour at the time, taught me about cat cafes and together we would talk about how we already have a café so why not add the cats? Somehow, only six months after the jokes started, Emilie and I opened Meow Parlour — New York’s first cat café. Our goal was to help cats find homes in a different type of environment. A space that was designed with their needs in mind. Since opening on December 15, 2014, we’ve fostered over 400 cats. We started our own nonprofit and adoption group this year and have fostered over 150 cats in 2018 alone.XJ8A0937aWhich brings me to Tia. I fostered Tia and Tamara in the spring/summer of 2016. Found under a car, they were incredibly sweet and incredibly underweight kittens. An 8-week-old cat is typically around 2 lbs. Tia was 9 ounces and Tamara was 20 ounces. Knowing what I know now about kittens, I still can’t believe that Tia survived. She was so small and so underweight that we put her in a crate when we went to work so that she wouldn’t go under the couch. And it turned out she could walk through the bars (we used to call her the T-1000 from Terminator 2) so we gave up on the crate idea immediately.

Our vet prepared us for the idea that Tia might not survive and that led me down a long journey of trying to find out what we could do to save her because I loved this itty bitty, sassy, and nearly hairless kitten. Tia’s story led to sparking a friendship with Kitten Lady, which led to bringing her talks to Meow Parlour so we could save other kittens like Tia. (Tia’s story is in detail here.) After that, I wanted to do more. I’ve always spoken to the customers at Meow Parlour about their questions and their desire to help, but not knowing where to start. This led to creating Cat Camp — a fun, educational weekend designed to educate, inspire, and create community. This year, we came back as Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp and we’ll be back in New York next June to lead the next class of feline warriors to take lifesaving action.

Tia inspired a movement and changed the operations of Meow Parlour. Her story helped us win a $25,000 grant that helped us launch our nonprofit. She doesn’t know about any of it. She’s the biggest scaredy cat in the world. But when it’s just us, she wants us to stick to our routines — getting butt pets in the mornings, playing fetch in the evenings, and running away slowly as if she doesn’t want us to pet her, but double checking to make sure we’re following her.

Mr. Socks introduced me to the world of cats, Pickle made me want to help cats find homes, and Tia showed me that education can and will save lives.

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Catnip party: Mr. Socks (left), Pickle (center), Tia (right)

 


Christina Ha is the pastry chef and co-founder of Macaron Parlour, half of the cat ladies behind Meow Parlour, and the creator behind Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp.

 

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Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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