We spoke with a West Annex neighbourhood fixture about community and, obviously, safety.
Chances are that if you’ve been in the western reaches of the Annex these past few months, you’ve seen Safety Cat. The neon orange-vested feline, whose real name is Scratchy, has become something of a community fixture. He’s even gotten real dead-tree media coverage for his “wonderfully goofy” contribution to community spirit.
With Safety Cat about to say goodbye to the Annex as his owner heads off to graduate school in England, we chatted with him about safety, getting pats, Jane Jacobs’ theory of the public character, and more.
Torontoist: So, first things first: why did you wear an orange safety vest?
Scratchy: Good question. I wore the safety vest because my owner, Isabel, is an anxious helicopter parent and was nervous about me being hit by a car on our very busy stretch of Barton Ave. She’d hoped to convert me from a stray to an indoor cat, but I insisted on going outside, so the safety vest was our compromise.
Did you attract a lot of attention?
Can’t lie: I’m very popular in the neighbourhood. I always got quite anxious to get outside during the day because I wanted to interact with my fans. You know how it is. So yes, I’d cross the street to greet people and spread my scent all over my turf; that’s how you make the other cats know it’s yours. I guess all that roaming probably ramped up the necessity for my vest. I even waited on the traffic island to escort people from our local park to the sidewalk opposite. Safety is no joke.
What do you think you meant to the surrounding community?
I’d like to think of myself as a lovely feature of the neighbourhood, your friendly local feline in an unusually cute get-up. Though this may be a bit of a stretch, we lived very close to the former home of Jane Jacobs at 69 Albany Avenue and I’ve always thought of her theories on urban life in relation to the Annex. She has the concept of “public characters” in a neighbourhood: “anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom…he just needs to be present.” That’s definitely what I aimed for, you know? Being a public character and cultivating a wide circle of neighbourhood contacts.
What kind of personality would you say that you have? Chill? Friendly?
A neighbour once described me as “an old soul,” and I feel this is accurate. I’m only around six years old, give or take, but I’m incredibly calm and slow-moving. You’re not likely to catch me climbing trees or leaping about like one of those hyper street cats—that just isn’t me. Instead I prefer to use the sidewalk, nap on porches, and lie on lawns. Oh, and pats. Bring on the pats, people! But seriously, I really do love attention and I’ll purr and chirp if you touch me. Sorry, what was the original question? Oh right, my personality. Yeah, I’d say I’m a pretty laid-back guy. Calm. Mellow. The only thing that I’ll run for is food. I’m weak for the kibble.
Where will the two of you be moving?
Isabel is heading to England for graduate school for nine months, and I’m going to live with a couple in North Toronto who I’ve stayed with many times in the past. It’s a pretty sweet setup because they’re retired and home for much of the day, and they spoil me with lots of treats! I’m weak for those too. During that time I’ll be able to hang up my safety vest because they have an enclosed backyard. But when Isabel returns from grad school we hope to move back to the Annex. So, stay tuned: I’ll be back.
(This interview was conducted with cat translation help from Isabel Duchesne.)