In 1952 a mysterious little grey and white cat sauntered into classroom 8 of Elysian Heights Elementary School in the heart of Echo Park, California. As the cat roamed in and out of classrooms and tip-toed across chalkboard shelfs–he captured the hearts of the students. The kids dubbed their fuzzy friend “Room 8” and offered him a permanent home at the school where he continued to live for sixteen years. The bond between the cat and the children was so strong, to this day the cat remains the school’s mascot and the inspiration behind their motto “to bring peace and love to people and animals.”
It didn’t take long for tales of the school cat to start making headlines. During Room 8’s life he posed for countless cameras- appearing in several magazine articles and television programs. Who could resist the images of a pudgy gray and white cat sleeping on a school desk or sharing a sandwich with a student? His fame spread quickly while fan mail poured into Elysian Heights Elementary. As the Room 8 craze took off, the students answered the letters and developed correspondences with cat lovers around the country. Suddenly, Room 8 was the world’s first celebrity cat.
Lil Bub and Keyboard cat, meet your forefather Room 8.
Room 8‘s widespread fame proves that cats and cute images of them naturally bring people together. What’s incredible is that Room 8 became a star long before the invention of the Internet, which is certainly overruled by cute cat imagery. Can you imagine how famous he would have been if animated gifs, lols, memes, and viral videos of him could be passed around digitally? While Room 8 made his legacy strictly in the terrestrial realm, he paved the way for famous cats of the future and his memory and influence remains strong.
Celebrity never fades. 44 years later, gifts and flowers are still left for a cat called Room 8.
Inspired by the story of Room 8, in 1972 Hettie L. Perry AKA the cat lady of Pasadena, launched The Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation [www.room8cats.org]. Although the pudgy little cat lived a charmed life, when he started to get old, his health deteriorated and living at the school proved too difficult. While the cat was adopted and lived in a private home for the last two years of his life, Mrs Perry knew not all cat’s–who gave so much, would wind up as lucky. She bought property in Riverside County and built an old age home/rescue for orphaned cats. In 1996 when Mrs Perry passed away she left everything she had to the cats -her will stating that the property was to never be sold and must continue to provide care for unwanted cats. 40 years later, the doors are still open and funded by the help of donations [http:://www.room8cats.org/index.cfm/donate]and the work of Gail and Jack Shelton, along with a rotation of volunteers and fosters. We drove out to Riverside to see how the life of the world’s first celebrity cat’s inspired a rescue.
Gail Shelton has been overseeing the daily duties of the no-kill shelter since 1996.
Cute cat collage at Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation.
When I asked Gail why Room 8 was such a phenomenon she replied, “cats have healing powers and I’m sure his presence-even it was simply taking a nap in the window, must have helped those children. He represents the special bond animals make with people. Today we would have recognized Room 8 as a therapy cat.”
“A therapy cat is a cat with an inherent disposition that makes people feel relaxed or helps heal loneliness. We are always looking to home cats with older folks who could benefit from a cat’s company. A lot of the cats here are very old and just need to be given a little love in their final days.”
I used to play keyboards.
After hearing so many affectionate stories about Room 8, I started thinking about Fatso, Charlie Schmidt’s famous keyboard cat. Poor Fatso died in 1987 but his owner didn’t upload his video until 2007. He never knew he was a star or that he made millions of people happy. Spending a night going down the Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat YouTube train is never a night wasted and in a modern world that makes him a therapy cat as well. Still there is yet to be a Keyboard Cat Rescue.
This cat is crazy cute. You are now under it’s spell.
I can has cheezburger?
“Hey Maru, I like boxes and bags, too.”
Not long into my visit a woman brought in two 22-year-old cats whose owners are elderly and unable to care for them. Gail seemed overwhelmed but there was no way she was going to turn them away. The other cats gathered to greet the new grannies.
It was so sad to see so many loving and affectionate cats without homes. Then Gail introduced me to this cat named “Freeway” and I instantly recognized the power of living with hope. Although Freeway is going to live therest of his life on three legs and needs extra care, Gail found him a home.
We stayed at the rescue until we made sure each cat had its fair share of attention and wished them
luck in finding a home. As I walked down the memorial hallway ending to take one last look at Room 8’s class photo, I asked Gail, “Who is your favorite celebrity cat?”
She said, “No one loves a celebrity cat more than their own.”
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