Prime Suspect

Everyone’s favorite Mountain Lion P22 was back in the news again and this time it wasn’t for hiding under someone’s house. The feline celebrity and resident of LA’s Griffith Park was simply doing something that comes naturally to him in a not so natural environment.

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Mountain Lion P22 prime suspect in death of the LA Zoos Koala. Image – The Guardian

Last week P22 made the headlines for being the prime suspect in the death of the LA Zoos 14 year old Koala named Killarney. Sometime during the night of March 2 P22 scaled the 8 foot high wall of the Zoo and allegedly got into the exhibit killing Killarney. Zoo staff found that she was missing the next day and began the search discovering her body not far from the enclosure. After reviewing security footage they found evidence which indicated a Mountain Lion, namely P22, was most likely responsible.

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The attack wasn’t recorded although there are photos of P-22, around the Zoo grounds. – Image LA Times

Security footage which monitors outside wildlife showed P22 has frequented the Zoo before, although they do not know exactly how he is getting in or out. They think he has been taking raccoons on the property as prey and, they know prior to this event P22 had never touched a Zoo animal. While no footage exists of him actually taking Killarney he was seen entering the grounds that night and tracking data from the GPS collar he wears reveals he was in the area however, it remains inconclusive if he was the one actually responsible for killing the Koala. Kate Kuykendall with the National Park Service told Los Angeles ABC7News that “He was in the area, but our GPS points are separated by two hours, so we can’t say for sure.” She also goes on to say that it is possible that a “bobcat or another carnivore may be the culprit.”

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Since the incident the Zoo is taking extra precautions by removing the Koala’s from exhibit and ensuring they are locked up in their night quarters when the Zoo closes. – Image NBC LA

The Zoo is in close proximity to the city’s largest urban park, which has lots of native wildlife including bobcats and coyotes, so P22 wouldn’t be alone in having frequented the Zoo and surrounding area.

The media ran stories all week-long some more sensational than others and while it is sad that the Koala died, and most will agree it is not pleasant to read about, P22 should in no way be made out as the bad guy for behaving like a Mountain Lion. He is after all a wild animal who has learned to co-exist, as best he can, in a densely populated city without incident.

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So far P22 has survived freeways, rat poisoning, urban sprawl and the pressures of an ever-growing human population. P22 – Image – Steve Winter

The majority of the public came to his defense but there were a few, including Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who suggested that P22 should be “moved to a safer, more remote wild area where he has adequate space to roam without the possibility of human interaction”. Moving a Mountain Lion is not advisable – it is stressful for the animal and easier said than done. Relocating a cat to a new area can create problems with other Mountain Lions that may already reside there as they will fight, often to the death, to defend their territory. On the other side, Council member David Ryu acknowledged that while the death of the Koala was unfortunate, moving P22 should not be an option. “As our City continues to grow, wildlife and humans are increasingly competing for space, resources, and places to call home. Many of these species play a critical role in creating healthier ecosystems that benefit us all.”

Importantly in all of this LA Zoo director John Lewis seems to get it and does not place blame on P22. In an official statement he said, “there’s a lot of native wildlife in this area. This is their home. So we’ll learn to adapt to P-22 just like he’s learned to adapt to us.” This is actually a good thing, while California Mountain Lions are specially protected from sport hunting, depredation permits can in some cases be issued to kill cats that are determined to pose an immediate threat to the public. While this was clearly not the situation with P22 other Mountain Lions in California without his celebrity status may not be so lucky when they are ‘perceived as a threat’. In 2015 The Mountain Lion Foundation reports that 256 such depredation permits were issued resulting in 107 of the cats being killed.

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For now it seems that P22 is safe, but comfort levels are clearly being tested. – Image National Park Service

Mountain Lions like all native wildlife play a valuable role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and society must learn not to vilify them for doing exactly what they are supposed to do, the responsibility clearly lies with us to protect ourselves, Zoos, livestock and pets. There is no one perfect solution when it comes co-exiting with wildlife, but if Mountain Lions are going to survive people must be prepared to utilize the best possible solutions that benefit both humans and animals – whatever they may be.

Wildlife everywhere is suffering from human pressure and while we often point fingers and insist people elsewhere, like Africa, learn to ‘live with and protect’ Lions we should be addressing our own practices with wildlife at home. After all we may be guilty of some of the same things we are so quick to accuse others of.

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P22 is doing for Mountain Lions what Elsa the lioness did for African Lions, will his status will be enough to protect him and ultimately his entire species? P22 – Image Griffith Park Trail Cam

Mountain Lions in California face many threats from inbreeding, death by vehicles and rat poison as well as habitat loss. The SaveLACougars campaign is trying to raise awareness and funds to build a much-needed wildlife crossing in LA to connect the species to the wild places they need to get to. If you would like to find out more about the campaign and why it is so important to help these big cats, be sure to watch the TEDx event talk given by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation below.

How a Lonely Cougar in Los Angeles Inspired the World.

#SaveLACougars has also launched an official online store where 100% of the proceeds from merchandise purchased goes directly to fund the campaign.

The Mountain Lion That Could

My trip to LA would not have been complete without meeting the cities most “wild” and elusive celebrity, a big cat who hasn’t let fame go to his head.

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P22 on his home turf – Griffith Park the second largest Urban Park in the US

P22 also known as the Hollywood Hills Cougar, was first spotted in 2012 by camera traps set up by the Griffith Park Natural History Survey’s Wildlife Connectivity Study. P22 had been looking for a new territory, dispersing from the Santa Monica Mountains, when he did something remarkable and crossed two of the busiest freeways in the US, the 405 and the 101.

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P22’s journey to Griffith Park from the Santa Monica Mountains across two major highways and through a highly developed urban area Image – NWF

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First images of P22 in Griffith Park taken in 2012 – Photo Griffith Park Connectivity Study – NWF

The Mountain Lion that could P22 survived the freeways and made it to Griffith Park where he decided to take up residency in an area that represents 3% of a normal size home range for a mountain lion. Surrounded and trapped by the busy city of Los Angeles in an urban park that gets millions of visitors a year P22 also managed to remain out of sight. His anonymity wouldn’t last long as his story spread and his celebrity cemented when photographer Steve Winter captured him, in the now iconic photo, with the Hollywood sign in the background.

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P22 in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic Photo – Steve Winter

From that moment on P22 became the poster cat for the plight facing urban wildlife trying to survive in and around the big city. He would also become the center of the National Wildlife Federations (NWF) Save LA Cougars campaign, an initiative to ensure mountain lions have a future in California by providing a much-needed wildlife crossing at the 101 freeway. While it’s amazing to think a mountain lion lives in Griffith Park, he shouldn’t be trapped there. In the future the crossing will help ensure these cats are better connected to wild spaces more suited for them.

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P22’s home is surrounded by a sea of endless human development

To find out more about Save LA Cougars I met up with P22 (the cutout – no real mountain lions were used in the making of this story) and Leigh Wyman California Program Assistant, Urban Wildlife at the NWF. We decide to meet in Griffith Park at the entrance close to the Los Feliz neighborhood where a few months earlier P22 took up residence under the crawl space of a house. I spot the familiar cutout of P22 propped up against the picnic table and he is not alone, some children have gathered around excited and curious about the big cat.

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Camera traps catch P22 feeding on deer in Griffith Park – Photo Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

I will find out that P22 draws a lot of attention when he is out and about and, when I ask Leigh about being upstaged by a life-size cardboard cut out of a mountain lion she tells me “it’s great actually and it brings out people’s concern about mountain lions…it gets a dialogue going especially after the Los Feliz crawl space incident.”

While the cut out is a lot of fun, the basis of the Save LA Cougars campaign is a serious one. Mountain lions are in trouble and facing a multitude of challenges from habitat loss, vehicular deaths, intra-species killings, inbreeding and poisoning by rodenticides. Barriers like freeways add to these problems by restricting the ability of mountain lions to move around freely from one territory to another. The link provided by the crossing is going to be vital to the survival of the species.

Leigh explains that mountain lions are one of California’s last big predators and that possibility of loosing them has led to discussion and speculation on what it would do the ecosystems. As we are finding out everywhere predators like mountain lions play a major role in maintaining the health of ecosystems and loosing them could have negative and irreversible consequences.

“If mountain lions don’t get help inbreeding can also occur and then they are in trouble genetically. For example fathers will mate with daughters, which leads to kinked tails, and other health issues. Since there isn’t an abundant amount of cats something needs to be done to ensure they will continue to be around.” Left unchecked inbreeding could be a cause that leads to the species demise.

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P22 last year looking good after recovering from a bad case of mange – Photo National Park Service

The National Park Service conducted a 12 year study of mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains capturing, collaring and tagging about 30 plus cats, give or take a few that have been lost. “With the GPS data the biologist collected they can see the cats as points on a map over all locations. The data shows the lineage of the cats, what it means for genetic variation and how it helps the population. It also shows that the cats come right up to the freeways to cross but instead turnaround.”

Cost of connectivity Early this year the campaign got a boost when the California Department of Transportation received a  one million dollar grant from the State Coastal Conservancy. The money pays for the environmental assessment and initial design of the what the actual crossing structure will look like. Once that phase is over the campaign will need an additional 2.5 to 3.5 million to get shovel ready plus more beyond that. Early estimates put a tunnel crossing in at around 10 million, however I am told the final cost of the crossing along with the actual design is still yet to be determined.

Location location location The campaign should be shovel ready by sometime in 2018 and will break ground at the Aougra Hills exit at Liberty Canyon on the other side of the 101 freeway. Based on the data collected and the fact that there have been more than a few mountain lions killed by vehicles near the proposed crossing, Liberty Canyon has been determined to be the last best place to help wildlife cross the freeways.

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Beth Pratt-Bergstrom  NWF’s California Director with P22 at one of the LA freeways he crossed – Photo NWF

All wildlife wins “There are big areas of protected private and public land that work as funnels for mountain lions and other wildlife out of the Santa Monica Mountains. While mountain lions are the priority because they are endangered, the crossing will benefit all wildlife like deer, fox, bobcats, coyotes right down to the smallest amphibians and that’s what make this project fantastic.”

Does the crossing mean more mountain lions in the city? I am told that there was some concern about that but there is a very good possibility that the crossing will “lessen human and mountain lion interactions because they won’t need to come into our space, they will have a better free flow into the more wild areas.”

Will the cats use the crossing? “Since we can’t go around asking the mountain lions or tell them where to cross,  we rely on the scientific data collected on both the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and where the hot spots are needed for connectivity.  You also look at the data from crossings built elsewhere and you can see they work. Science has proved crossing can be successful.” Biologist have collected and pinpointed the best possible location for the crossing and will use camera’s to monitor activity as well as continue to collect blood samples to track the cats DNA.

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Banff National Park’s wildlife crossing structures. Cougars are quick learners, taking approximately three years to adapt to the crossing. Image © Parks Canada

I am told that there has been mainly all positive support for the project and that California is ready for this to happen. “California is opening the door to a new way of thinking about transportation, city planning and the environment – it becomes part of people’s mentality.” Looking at the state of the Florida Panther which is highly endangered she says people in California “do not want mountain lions here to get to that point, and the open-minded perspective on incorporating wildlife into daily life is really exciting.”

Steve Winter’s photos helped propel public knowledge of the campaign and was extremely helpful when it came to “raising awareness with complete strangers.” Leigh tells me that she started P22’s Facebook page and in 3 weeks it had 3,000 likes from all of over the US and the rest of the world. “In LA it’s become part of the local culture in and around the city. I have even heard side conversations about P22 in the grocery store!”

Leading by example “Traditionally the approach has been to protect islands of land like Yellow Stone or Yosemite which is great, but what they are seeing now is that connectivity is essential for wildlife and ecosystems to flourish. By creating a wildlife crossing in an urban setting we hope to set the platform for other cities to do the same.”

While most other wildlife crossing around the world, like the ones in Europe or Banff National Park, are constructed in more natural and open areas California will be constructing it in a huge urban city, which has not been done before. “It’s a new way for cities to keep an ecological mindset and their urban system overlapping. You have downtown LA, the Hollywood walk of fame on one side and bobcats, coyotes and a mountain lion in Griffith Park, the two worlds can co-exist and LA and California want them to continue to exist.”

The biggest obstacle is the funding, but the NWF has been working with the necessary agencies and is confident that they will come up with the required money. “The campaign is more than a snowball effect it is moving at a fast pace.”

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With P22 and Leigh Wyman – Thumbs up for #SaveLACougars

Taking one for the team P22 has been the ultimate spokes cat for the wildlife crossing, urban wildlife and the Save LA Cougars campaign but how does he make out in all of this? Sadly the crossing won’t help him, at six years of age he is a confirmed bachelor of Griffith Park, but his story has provided the juice and momentum for the campaign which will assist in helping his relatives and ancestors that still roam the surrounding areas.

How will P22’s story end? Leigh laughs when I joke about the movie deal “This is Hollywood though…so you never know.”

Looking for ways to support the Save LA Cougars campaign?

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  • Text “LION” to 25383 to donate $10 to #SaveLACougars on your mobile
  • Download the Save LA Cougars Campaign Flyer to help spread the word
  • Donate directly to NWF and the Save LA Cougars Campaign
  • Volunteer with the NWF or host a fundraiser for P22 at home or with your school
  • Snap a selfie with P22’s cutout and be sure to tag it with #SaveLACougars to help spread awareness on social media

Finally, no self-respecting mountain lion, in Los Angeles, would be without a way to connect with his fans so be sure to check out P22 on Facebook.

CatCon LA

I have to be honest, last week when I headed to CatConLA I wasn’t sure what to expect. Looking back I don’t think I was prepared for what it would be like to have all things cat in one place, at one time.

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Waiting in Line to meet Lil Bub and her dad Mike Bridavsky

Most fans were beyond excited to meet Lil Bub and a few even shed real tears of joy. Regardless of what you think Bub is like, nothing prepares you for how unbelievably cute she is in person. I confess it’s almost impossible not to grin from ear to ear in her presence. I asked Mike if a visit to Toronto was in store and he said that they have come close but haven’t made it there yet.

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Good Job Bub! Does this mean a visit for Canada?

With my meet and greet over I explored the convention floor, which by end of day Sunday would see well over 10,000 people walk through. A friendly atmosphere permeated the event and whether you came in a group or alone you felt like you were part of one giant cat loving family. No one was an outsider here and if you arrived solo you were guaranteed to leave with at least a few new friends.

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Just a few new friends! With @samsam_ferdinand and @oliveandrye

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Left to right: @Catsprofile, @Sushirulz and @Coco_Sazerac with their Flat Cats.

Many people were carrying cardboard cut outs of their cats, otherwise known as Flat Cats. The humans behind some of the well known cat Instagram accounts used this as a way to represent their beloved felines at the show, and since the online cat community is large, it was a fun and helpful way to identify who the human was behind the cats. If you didn’t have a Flat Cat you most definitely carried business cards… for your cat.

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The crowds of cat lovers gather…

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Real men do wear cat print swim shorts.

There were many notable cat themed outfits but one of the most unexpected, was by printmaker and costume designer Martelier of Etsy. I tried to capture as much of the outfit as possible but I am not sure my pictures do it justice.

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Up close you can see individual cats made from woodblock prints sewn together, the skirt was seven feet wide (the hat was faux fur).

This was the most labor intensive and intricate outfit at the event that I saw, and deserves a special mention as the attention to detail is just amazing.

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You name it vendors were selling it. Everything from art, cat furniture, cat wheels, t-shirts, clothes, underwear, cat toys, cat collars, cat ears for humans, urns for cats, baby clothes, plush toys, books and even the first interactive robot cat – Zoomer Kitty all available for purchase.

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Undergarments by MetalCats available in neon green or pink.

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Unique cat furniture by Square Paws

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For the future cat lady or cat man by Kumquat Baby Clothing

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Big Cat art work by Chaos in Color – Cheetah Twins

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I picked up this adorable print by Lili Chin

One of my favorite surprises was seeing Artist Rick Ordonez, otherwise know as Atlas. He told me he decided last-minute to be in the show and had put together the work you see here in three days. While the freeway cats are long gone in LA, he is now working on some commissioned work nearby so the cats will be back!

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It was two days filled with cool merchandise and awesome people and, just when I thought it couldn’t  get any better I was lucky enough to catch The Cats of Instagram team and  Pudge the Cat posing for pictures.

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Team work – Eli and Kady (mom to Pudge)

Of course an event like this would not be complete without stories of cat adoptions and one rescue. A total of 75 cats found their forever homes courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society on site adoptions and, a real life cat rescue by expo attendees happened right near the venue in downtown LA.

So much wonderful happened at CatCon that plans are well underway for next year which I gather will be even bigger, so mark your calendars and let the countdown begin all over.

 Stay tuned for more on my post CatCon experience and other cats of Los Angeles and be sure to follow my Instagram and Facebook page for more CatConLA Fun!

LA Graffiti – Cat Style

In anticipation of my trip to CatConLA later this week I will be featuring all things cat from California. While doing research, I came across an older news story featuring awesome cat graffiti that started appearing all over Los Angeles freeways and streets a number of years back. I don’t know if any of this still exists, but you can bet I will be keeping an eye out. What can I say, cats really do make everything better, even if only for a brief time.

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All images from Graffhead.com unless otherwise noted

Sometime in late 2009 people noticed cat images popping up all over the city, including freeway underpasses and the streets. According to GraffHead.com cats would appear and nobody, including city officials, could figure out who was painting them. By the looks of some of the locations the talented individual took some big risks to get his worked noticed.

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This is pretty insane, right in the middle of the freeway.

It February of 2010 it seems that there must have been some sort of graffiti war which resulted in some of the cats being painted over, but Graff Head reported the cats came back with a vengeance.

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The Cats Strike Back. Why would anyone paint over the cats?!

cats, cats in art, cat graffiti, cat graffiti Los Angeles, cat graffiti on freeway 101, cat graffiti on freeway overpasses, cats art in California, There are cats everywhere, Cat inspired art, While many people clearly enjoyed the cats, really who wouldn’t, the city was not happy about it and the hunt for the “serial tagger of cats” was on with police initially apprehending the wrong guy. In April of 2010 it was assumed that the cats would no longer be there to greet drivers with their smiling and cheery felines faces leading Graff Head to label these shots “Cats – The Last Ones?” I love how the question mark left it open-ended.

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It seems every cat has their day and sadly the graffiti stopped appearing and was removed from the streets and freeways. No new cats were reported but a few never before seen photos  appeared.

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Police finally caught up with and booked Rick Ordonez, the man suspected of the cat tagging spree. A graphic designer and former skateboard shop owner who went by the name Atlas. No surprise he kept cats as pets as was a cat lover. After being sentenced to 90 days for felony vandalism, LA’s Mid-City Arts approached him to do an art show, which he agreed to do while remaining out of the spotlight. When asked Why Cats? He simply answered “I love cats.”

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Vidoe of Cat Tagger – Kitty Litter – Los Angeles Graffiti

 

 

The Center of The Cativerse

For two days in June, Los Angeles will become the center of the ‘Cativerse’ when it hosts the first ever convention and expo for cat lovers.
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No this isn’t a dream, this is real.

When I first read about CatConLA last fall I knew I had to go, so I booked off vacation time at work and redeemed my frequent flyer miles. The tag line “It’s like Comic-Con but for cat people” said it all. This was the ground-breaking and litter-box shaking event cat lovers everywhere had been waiting for.
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The event takes place June 6 and 7 at The Reef in Downtown LA

“Part expo, part symposium, CatConLA showcases the world’s top cat-centric merchandise including furniture, art, toys and clothing for those of us who possess a great love of the feline, as well as conversations with some of the top cat experts in the world.”

The weekend is guaranteed to be filled with fun but it will also be about giving back. CatConLA will be donating a dollar for every ticket sold, as well as a portion of the proceeds from CatConLA merchandise, to benefit FixNation a non-profit organization committed to helping cats in Los Angeles. FixNation provides a free, full-time spay/neuter clinic for cats as well as low-cost spay/neuter services for owned pet cats.

Lil Bub or Pudge the Cat Meet and Greet packages, that include a two-day pass to CatConLA, are available for fans who want a little one on one time with their favorite internet cat. Lil Bub will donate a portion of the ticket price to both Lil Bub’s Big Fund and FixNation, while a portion of the ticket price from the Pudge the Cat Meet and Greet will go to FixNation.

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Lil Bub

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Pudge the Cat

The event will offer numerous seminars on both days and the Speakers list includes, among others, Simon Tofield creator of  the cartoon Simon’s Cat, Mike Bridavsky the human behind Lil Bub, Will Braden creator of Henri, Le Chat Noir and Ben Huh Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cheezburger.
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Simon Tofield and Simon’s Cat

CatConLA will also have Best Friends Animal Society on site with day-of adoptions and, If all this isn’t enough the extensive list of vendors selling cat themed merchandise will keep you busy shopping for yourself and every cat lover in your life. Be sure to bring a big shopping bag and your credit card, I guarantee you will be going home with a much heavier suitcase.

For more info and to purchase tickets visit CatConLA, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates.

Be sure to stay tuned for my full report when I head out to LA in a weeks time. Let the countdown begin!