The Instagram-Famous Cats Who Inspired Waves of 'Misfit' Pet Adoptions
Beacon’s Frida and Eddie “the Lilac Lion” inspired thousands, and are doing even more for special-needs pets after their passing.
This was a very different story when we pitched it at the start of the new year. At the time, @eddie_the_lilac_lion had in the ballpark of 20,000 followers. A deaf and earless, toothless, half-blind, cross-eyed senior of a lilac Siamese, Eddie had become something of a Beacon celebrity, champion of “misfit” cats after a long history as a rough-and-tumble street cat.
Then we realized that just down the street, Bruno and Boop — rescues of famous “Kitten Lady” Hannah Shaw — had just gained a new older sister in the form of Frida. A rescue herself, Frida had suffered some form of trauma leaving her with neurological problems and other physical ailments. We pitched, we reached out, and everyone was amiable. We were going to get to play with some cats and call it "work."
It was later determined that Frida’s facial injury was the result of cancer. Thousands followed her adoption, physical rehabilitation, and hospice care during the tail end of her life. Everyone mourned her loss. Soon after, Eddie started to have kidney troubles. He was old — at least 14 by conservative guesses — so we postponed, but sadly he, too, passed within the next few weeks.
We expected to scrap the story, but to our complete astonishment both Jennifer Blakeslee and Pamela May — Eddie’s and Frida’s respective humans — were still completely on board to talk about the amazing upswell of love and support they were experiencing. Not only were they receiving condolences, but their follower counts were actually going up.
“It’s close to 75,000 followers. That’s a really big audience,” says Blakeslee on Eddie’s posthumous Instagram following. “I would say 99 percent of people on Instagram were supportive.”
Left: Jennifer had Eddie's ashes pressed into a beautiful keepsake necklace. Right: Jennifer scrolls through seemingly endless photos of Eddie on her phone.
Blakeslee had previously adopted a cat with special needs named Shackleton, after the polar explorer. “He taught me the role that hospice plays … meaning you go into the shelter and you adopt the sickest cat, so that they have a home before they die. They know love, they know grace, they know affection and warmth.”
Above: Jennifer snuggles one of her current cats, Floyd. Below: Jennifer's other cat, Daisy.
“When we adopted Eddie, we knew that he was so interesting looking — but nobody wanted him, because he looked weird — and they had tried so hard to adopt him out. So when we adopted him, there was this groundswell of appreciation just that somebody had decided to take this cat.” Some of that appreciation came in the form of monetary support.
“We knew that we wanted to do the surgery [to remove Eddie’s then-infected vestigial earflaps] — we didn’t want to just give up on him, after everything he’d been through. But, the surgery was going to be around $4,500. So, I had really mixed feelings about creating a crowd-funding site,” Blakeslee says. “We raised the money I think within 48 hours. After that, I always thought of Eddie as everyone’s cat. He didn’t just belong to me; he belonged to everybody.”
Artist Sara Pulver painted The Patron Saint of Misfit Cats, a folk art rendition piece of Eddie and other special needs cats as a fundraising effort.
Since, Blakeslee has run a few more fundraisers — including sales of prints and even limited edition Eddie the Lilac Lion socks — one of which raised money to help Archie, a feline friend Eddie had made at Mid-Hudson Animal Aid, find a home with a follower out in Chicago. “Early on, it became important for me to channel as much as I could back to the shelter. They do great work there. It’s small and it’s local and I think they’re great.”
“There are people who have made their cat accounts their lives, their business — Lil Bub is a great example. He’s [Bub’s owner, Mike Bridavsky] done extraordinary things. One of the things I love about what he does, is he raises money for special needs cats. When I see an account that is purely about making money for themselves, it’s not as interesting to me.”
Frida’s story was much the same. “They weren’t sure if she had been hit by a car, maybe kicked by a person, maybe cancer … nobody really knew,” says May. “She definitely was special-needs. She was blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other eye. She was walking in circles when they first found her.”
Frida’s medical care was also funded in large part by crowdfunding campaigns: so many people wanted to help care for this sweet but strange cat that they began donating to the Queens-based clinic where she was rescued. “Once I adopted her I went to that vet once and immediately brought her up to Beacon because I needed to have her here. So then we started having a fundraiser for her up here.”
Left: Pamela received Frida fan art from people all over the world. Right: Fundraising socks with Frida-print.
“By the time she was with me she had a little bit clearer vision (-ish), and she stopped walking in circles. I was practicing working with her, having her follow me with food around the apartment, around here, to help her walk in straight lines.”
Sadly, it was discovered that part of Frida’s facial trauma was the result of cancer. Like Eddie, however, her death did not end up being the end of #TeamFrida. The outpouring of love and support for Frida came in monetary donations, words of encouragement, even fan art. Eventually, May created the above website along with a dedicated Instagram account which she uses primarily to help adopt other in-need animals. (Around seventeen pets were rescued in just the first few weeks, including a multitude of cats, several dogs, and one goat in Hawaii now also named “Frida.”)
“The way social media works right now isn’t the best for rescue. We’re looking at another way of getting that out there. On some of these platforms you’ll notice that your feed isn’t necessarily in real-time…. So I want to work on something that will make rescue more real-time.”
Left: Two of four of Pamela's current cats, Boop and Pippi, enjoy a snack from Dave. Right: Pamela shows off one of her crocheted cat bed creations.
This network of adoptions runs full circle: the adopter of Eddie’s old pal Archie? She became of aware of a “tripod cat” whose back leg had to be amputated after an accident — in Turkey. May was helping to rescue for as many animals as possible, raising funds through sales of “cat baskets” at Bruno & Boop Originals, while Team Frida has offered t-shirts, more custom socks, and recently announced its jewelry line ahead of this year’s Cat Camp. With these and public donations, they were able to arrange the safe import of “Kedi” (which is Turkish for “cat”) to the United States, where he now resides with Bruno, Boop, and big sister Pipi as @milo.the.silo.
Pamela's new special needs cat, Milo.
“I didn’t even know with Frida when I adopted her … I can’t even remember how my life was before her, because since she’s passed, everything has changed.”
Blakeslee echoes May’s sentiment. “Time and time again I hear stories of how incredibly rewarding it is. People say, ‘I’m only going to adopt senior cats from here on out.’ People have messaged me telling me that that’s what they’re doing, that because of Eddie, it’s changed the way they look at rescues, changed the way they look at adoption, changed the way they look at animals. I talk a lot in his feed about love. That’s where this painting came from — the Patron Saint of Misfit Cats. It’s all about loving the unloved.”
Readers interested in donating to individual pet accounts can do so at the above links. Anyone interested in volunteering or fostering within their local communities are encouraged to reach out to their local shelters. More in formation can be found here, here, and at your local shelters and veterinary offices.