Cat Daddies: Eight men and their feline friends

Bay area software engineer Jeff Judkins hikes with his cat Zulu at Cataract Falls in Northern California
Photo by Mye Hoang
A new documentary explores relationships between men and cats, and the results are “purrfect.”
By Stephanie Sellars

We’ve all heard the term “cat ladies.” It’s an expression reserved for women who adore all things pertaining to cats. But wait: Something’s missing from this equation. What about the men who love their feline pals every bit as much? For a long time, the general assessment of a guy who lives with one or more cats has been (broad strokes) weird and creepy. If a dude asks his buddies what they think about him getting a cat, the answer is typically some variation of “No, man, you can’t do that.”

But these are stereotypes — negative ones at that. They’re explored and debunked in the new documentary film Cat Daddies, conceived and directed by cinephile and cat lover Mye Hoang. “Men are conditioned to like certain things in our society. They’re supposed to like sports, cars, dogs,” says Mye. “But I think it’s changing.” And thanks in part to people like her, it’s changing fast.

A while back, Mye started noticing images of men with cats, and she loved them. In her words, they “spark joy.” Around that time, a cat had found her husband (not a cat guy), and he fell in love (now a total cat guy). Mye didn’t see it coming. “I’m sure there are so many men who don’t know they have this in them,” she says.

As a result of what she witnessed in her own husband, Mye started thinking that many more men could benefit from the love and companionship of a cat. She noticed more instances of men with cats on social media, in books, on T-shirts. But she hadn’t seen a movie about men and cats. Why not make one herself? So she did — a documentary that’s a heartwarming portrait of eight unique men whose lives have been changed by their love for cats.

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Ready for their close-up

They say nothing’s tougher in film production than working with kids or animals. Mye knew that the first criterion for casting cats (and their dads) in her movie was that they had to be comfortable with a camera crew. The cat dads in question all knew their cats, so it came down to making sure she was profiling felines who were OK with other people, too.

Mye was already following a few of them on social media, so she had a decent sense of the cats’ personalities. Nathan Kehn of North Hollywood, California, for example, would ultimately open the film in a very memorable sequence playing “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” with his four cats. These were cats who could handle a bit of fun.

Nathan initially didn’t want pets because, as an actor living in Los Angeles, he was rarely home. But his roommate had a cat named Pickles who became attached to Nathan, and when they realized that Pickles needed a friend, Ginger joined the household. When the roommate moved out, Pickles and Ginger stayed. Then along came another cat, Annie, and a new roommate who had Princess.

[Kittens give foster dad more reasons to be thankful this Father’s Day]

“Once you hit three, it doesn’t matter. I could have 16,” Nathan says matter-of-factly. Nathan started posting videos of himself on Instagram to promote his acting career. But it wasn’t until he posted a couple of videos with Princess that people started to take notice, and he realized he had something. With nearly 375,000 followers now, Nathan’s videos not only bring people joy, but they also show how much a guy can love his cats. The cherry on top? His acting career has flourished as a result. (He might have to thank his cats in any award acceptance speeches.)

David Durst, a trucker, and his cat, Tora, also have quite an online following. Many trucking companies allow pets to join drivers on the road, and cats are the second most common sidekicks. (We can surmise that the most common are canine companions.) Of his unlikely pal, David says: “I’m on the road so often, it gets very tiring. But with her, it makes it feel like home.” The two travel the country with David’s girlfriend. Tora enjoys the long trips and even loves exploring the outdoors on a leash.

Then there’s Keys, a comical tuxedo cat who started spontaneously standing up on her hind legs and waving her front paws in the air. Her dad, Peter Mares, began snapping pictures of her. And when one of the photos ended up winning a contest, Keys (aka Goal Kitty) became an internet sensation. Today, more than 100,000 followers on social media get their daily chuckle from this acrobatic cat. Peter loves that Keys brings joy to a whole lot of people. It’s this joy-spreading quality that the cats in Mye’s cast have in common.

Lucky cats and luckier cat dads

While the cats in the cast of Cat Daddies undoubtedly create much collective happiness, sometimes the joy a cat brings is focused on one special person — like David Giovanni. An immigrant from the country of Georgia, David was homeless in New York City when he found a tiny kitten who appeared to be close to death. He knew he lacked the resources to help the injured kitten (whom he named Lucky), so he brought Lucky to the ASPCA for immediate assistance and then stayed nearby until the little kitty had recovered. Besides being a beacon for David as he coped with the challenges of living on the street, Lucky was a magnet for generous humans like Chris Alese, a police officer who helped David find shelter. Chris happens to be a cat dad himself, and the two developed a friendship rooted in their love of felines.

[5 men making a difference for homeless pets]

David was already struggling with a disability, but when he received a cancer diagnosis, his first concern was for Lucky. Fortunately, one of the cat ladies who had befriended David on the street offered to foster Lucky while David was in the hospital. Through nine months of treatment, David stayed hopeful that he would be reunited with his “baby boy.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, travel became difficult, and some of the cat daddies Mye had lined up for filming were forced to cancel their plans to participate. Through the recommendation of a cat-loving friend, David showed up, willing and ready to take part. When Mye met David, she saw in him an incredible advocate for cats as companions — and therefore someone whose story would strengthen the film. She also realized that she could help him in return. Moved by David’s plight, she promoted to her film supporters the online fundraiser on the GoFundMe platform that had been set up for his medical expenses. Her original intention to make a light and fluffy film about men and their cats was evolving into something she never expected.

A range of unforgettable stories

David and Lucky aren’t the only ones who share an unforgettable story in the film. Jordan Lide, a fire engineer in Greenville, South Carolina, talks about how Flame, the cat who wandered into the fire station one day, won over every person in the department. Flame provides stress relief for guys who, before Flame came along, had mostly only known dogs and believed that cats are moody and aloof. Jordan acknowledges that Flame changed their perception of cats. Flame even won the heart of the fire chief, who initially wanted the cat gone. Flame lives in the bays and hops onto the trucks but never gets in the way. It has been said that he’s the calm in the midst of chaos.

Chaos is just about the best word to describe 2020 on so many fronts, yet Mye and her crew forged ahead and made it a point to incorporate the year’s challenges into the film. Jeff Judkins and his cat, Zulu, are another duo featured in Cat Daddies. When California wildfires hit the area where they lived, Jeff worried about Zulu’s safety. Although the house Jeff shared with his roommate and their two cats was spared, they had to move into a hotel while the area was cleaned up. Jeff, who used to be uncomfortable saying he loves cats, is now openly concerned about the well-being of Zulu, who adapted to life in the hotel and even made friends with staff while on his leash walks.

In Cat Daddies, Mye also includes men who love community cats (cats who live outdoors). Will Zweigart, an advertising executive and founder of Flatbush Cats in Brooklyn, does trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) to help cats like Teddy, who looked like a matted old teddy bear when he was found on the street. Will is committed to documenting his organization’s work on social media and educating people about topics like kitten socialization. Will has discovered a new sense of purpose by helping community cats. “Cats teach me patience over and over and over again,” he says.

[Frequently Asked Questions About TNVR]

Will’s not the only one in the film with a soft spot for community cats. Ryan Robertson, a stunt performer in Atlanta, remains inspired by Toodles, his 25-pound Maine coon cat. Having grown up under the influence of his mother’s fear of animals, Ryan credits Toodles with changing his perception of cats. He also gives a bro-like nod to Toodles for attracting his girlfriend, Megan, who thought she would have to teach a guy that cats are cool. Beaming at the thought, she says, “If you see a man care for something that’s not himself, it’s attractive.” During the pandemic, the couple’s love for cats grew when they started feeding strays in their neighborhood and learned how to do TNVR to prevent them from reproducing.

The men featured in the film are from different walks of life and from different parts of the country, but they all know the benefits of caring for others and of letting others care for us — even when that “other” is a cat. Mye says she found it both comforting and refreshing to be with men who are unabashedly in love with their cats while simultaneously being their authentic selves. “Men have always loved cats,” says Will. “I think it’s becoming a little bit more socially acceptable. Caring for others, being able to protect others, that’s the foundation of strength.”

Weird and creepy for men to love cats? No way. In fact, as Mye puts it: “I think all of these guys are living their best life. With their cat.”

This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.