By Julie Oatfield /// Staff Writer
Two cats recently helped Visiting Assistant Professor Zachary Poppel to write his dissertation at the University of Illinois (at Urbana-Champaign). They didn’t quit on him when he took up a job in the LC history department. Poppel’s cats Peter and Daisy are already well-known icons of the “Fellowship Cat” Tumblr and heroes of Illinois labor movements. We were curious about how the trio has been getting along since coming to Portland.
Pioneer Log: So we know that Daisy and Peter are no strangers to the internet, based on the Fellowship Cat Tumblr. How did that first start?
Zachary Poppel: Fellowship Cat is the brainchild of my co-conspirator, who will go by his pseudonym David Greenbean, and it is a site in which cats provide their interpretation of the life of dissertating: the late stages of graduate school. The whole purpose of the website was to provide a creative outlet for people, but the real, ultimate objective was to make $100 (in click revenue, or whatever, but without engaging in any click fraud). So we’re slowly working towards that $100, and then the major goal is to get a brisket out of it all. Eventually, one day in the future, we’re gonna get a brisket out of Fellowship Cat.
PL: How long has Fellowship Cat been up?
ZP: Approximately two years. It’s international, in that its contributors come from around the world.
PL: I was going through it earlier, I really love some of the posts even though I haven’t written a dissertation yet. I think it’s still relatable. Have you noticed any political affiliations, maybe when they’re speaking on Fellowship Cats?
ZP: Yeah. I would say they’re militant promoters of catmanity. And strong allies of the labor movement, insofar as they were willing to lend their image to a number of teachers’ union campaigns in Urbana-Champaign. They became local underground folk hero cats.
PL: So, promoters of catmanity, but also tolerant and supportive of humans?
ZP: Yes. Tolerant and supportive, exactly. [Points to an image] That’s Daisy: The Front Paw of Justice. This is Peter. He became Sabo Tabby and Daisy became the Front Paw of Justice. So, like I said, promoters of catmanity, but firm allies of popular human struggles.
PL: Sounds like a great team. Moving from the Illinois scene, what was it like for you all to travel to Portland?
ZP: We drove here in December with two cats. Two cars, one cat per car. They’re okay drivers. Peter’s not good at turns, but he’s good at … if you give him the wheel on a straightaway piece of highway, he can keep the car pretty straight. So I was able to nap and he was able to drive, that was good. Y’know, he had never seen a cliff before. So when we were driving through those first cliffs you hit when you’re coming west out of Denver? He’d never seen something that big before, and I’d never heard a cat … yelling. It wasn’t a meow, he was trying to yell through the window at these giant cliffs. So that was really strange. Other than that, they got to hang out in a hotel for like a little bit, and they thought that was pretty cool.
PL: And I guess our last question is, do you have a favorite memory together?
ZP: Daisy’s not an outdoor cat, but training her to be an outdoor cat took about six months. It started with her running away for a day and a half, so that was a failure. But, gradually, she became kind of like a semi-independent outdoor three-legged cat. The cat-orhood that we lived in in Urbana-Champaign was full of cats, and she very quickly became a force to be reckoned with as an outdoor cat there, with many friends and allies. So yeah, despite not having a front leg she would pretty much like, she could climb trees, jump fences, catch cicadas. She liked killing cicadas. She’s a really good cicada hunter. And then for Peter I guess a favorite memory would be, I think him howling at the cliffs. That would probably be the current favorite moment.
PL: Cool. Thank you so much. Is there anything else you wanna include about them?
ZP: I know I probably sound pretty crazy, but trust me it’s a sane relationship that we have with these cats. They’re definitely recommended if anyone has to write a dissertation — it’s better with cats. Particularly with outdoor cats, ‘cause then it forces you to go outside and sort of hang out with them outside. It’s just a good combination. We would have friends who, during the stressful times of dissertating, they would just need to hang out with some cats and they could come hang out with our cats. So, good sort of social beings, those cats.
Be sure to check out http://fellowshipcat.tumblr.com/