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Originally published May 9, 2014 at 8:51 PM | Page modified May 10, 2014 at 11:51 AM

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Bothell kitten cam goes viral, watchers gather for own convention

With more than 40,000 followers, John Bartlett’s kitten cam has helped find homes for felines at Purrfect Pals, an Arlington shelter. Now some of its fans from all over the world are having a Kitten Cam Con here.




Seattle Times staff reporter

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Great article on a very gifted and likable 'ambassador in cat matters' - and on one of the pleasant sides of the... MORE
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You know, if you people didn’t find cats so adorable, then we might be writing about highlights from this year’s state Legislature.

But cats it is.

John Bartlett, 43, a Bothell computer programmer, right now is experiencing what it’s like for his Foster Kitten Cam to go viral.

As of Friday, it had 40,156 followers from mostly the U.S. but also the U.K., Finland, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa and “pretty much every country in the world.” (The most recent batch of kittens was adopted last week, but the site has plenty of videos of past fosters.)

As you might have guessed, the camera shows kittens. They’re all up for adoption by Purrfect Pals, an Arlington cat shelter.

It shows them doing what kittens do. They play and, well, mostly sleep. That’s OK.

“Kittens sleep 16 hours a day. People watch them sleep. There’s something peaceful about it,” says Bartlett.

The cam has become so popular that this week, about 60 of those followers are here in Seattle for the first Kitten Cam Con. One is even in from Australia.

Says Felicia Heywood, a Boston clinical social worker, “It does seem a little insane. People think about me, that she’s flying across the country to meet a bunch of people she met watching cats online.”

But Heywood says she’s become best friends with some of her fellow kitten-cam lovers.

Either on the Livestream for the cam, or its Facebook page, they chat and share their lives.

“They are the people who know the most about what’s going on in my personal life,” she says.

Heywood got hooked on the kitten cam when a friend sent her a link.

“I started watching and I couldn’t stop,” she says. “If I had a rough hour, I’d watch the kittens for 15 minutes. It’s hard to stay grumpy. I even told clients to watch them. I was dealing with a couple of young ladies who were dealing with depression.”

Bartlett is a volunteer at the cat shelter and in 2008 began taking in kittens, and their moms, for fostering. The kittens had to be 2 months old before they could be adopted.

He set up a spare bedroom in his home, where his son also lives, for the cats.

Then, in October 2012, he set up a webcam so he could keep an eye on the kittens while he was away.

“I thought, if I’m going to watch them, why not let others? I started a link,” Bartlett says.

At first, maybe 10 people watched.

“Then ‘cute overload’ started. I was getting 100 viewers. Then ICanHasCheezburger? (the site specializing in funny cat pictures) picked it up. Next thing, I have 200, 300 viewers,” he says.

Then People magazine posted a link. The viral deluge was on.

One link led to another, such as when Grant Imahara, seen on the TV show “MythBusters,” tweeted:

“Was checking my email this morning and the computer rustled. I’d left the live kitten cam window open!”

To show his appreciation, Bartlett named one set of cats “MythBusters.”

He likes to give theme names to the kitten batches he takes in. The latest adoptees were the “Ghostbusters,” as Bartlett was a fan of the late Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the movie and was one of its stars.

The cat shelter has had requests from kitten-cam fans in other states, and other countries, to adopt the ones they’ve watched on the Internet. The shelter says it keeps the adoptions local but notes there are plenty of cats looking for homes all over the world.

Connie Gabelein, executive director of Purrfect Pals, says the impact of the kitten cam has been “astronomical.”

She said the shelter hasn’t had to buy kitten food for two years.

“Any time we run low, John just posts a wish-list link on Amazon,” says Gabelein.

After a couple of months of being followed on Bartlett’s webcam, the adopted kittens get their own following.

In Edmonds, David Clem, a car-parts manager at an auto dealership, and his wife, LuAnn Smith, adopted two of the MythBusters kittens, Tory and Grant.

Clem set up a Facebook page for the two cats, and they now have 4,000 followers.

“On any given week, there have to be 1,000 people that interact with us. Great Britain, Norway, Finland, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg,” he says.

Clem says they post about the cats “multiple times a day” and the page has 1,500 photos of Tory and Grant.

“A considerable number are of them sleeping,” he says. Followers of the cats don’t mind.

Clem also noticed that most of the 60 people who arrived for Kitten Cam Con are women, middle-aged and a bit older.

“A lot of guys like cats, but they just won’t admit it,” he says. “Guys don’t think cats are masculine enough. A dog follows you and goes hunting with you. A cat just lays around.”

Besides taking tours, those here for the convention also will take part in Saturday’s Average Joe Cat Show hosted by Purrfect Pals at the Spartan Recreation Center in Shoreline.

The latest research on how cats came to be the most popular household pet in the world — with more than 600 million felines — is that some 10,000 years ago, wild cats figured something out about humans.

Act friendly every once in a while and the human is putty in your paws.

Carlos Driscoll and three other researchers wrote in Scientific American that cats aren’t candidates for “utility to humans ... let us just say cats do not take instruction well.”

As opposed to dogs, who were bred for such tasks as guarding and hunting, they say that cats “had only to evolve a people-friendly disposition.”

That they did, say the authors, becoming domesticated — “but perhaps only just.”

You want to see just how well the cats succeeded? Just go to the kitty cam.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com On Twitter @ErikLacitis



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