Laughter and meows at Oakland’s Internet Cat Video Festival

Holly Bailey
·National Correspondent

OAKLAND, Calif.—Teddy usually spends most weekends lounging around the house, drifting in and out of long luxurious naps.

But on Saturday, he made a rare exception to his routine--taking a ride in what his owners called his “Kitty SUV,” a fancy caged pet stroller with duel front wheels said to be tough enough to climb a mountain.

Inside, Teddy, a 2-year-old Persian-Munchkin mix with a fluffy caramel-colored coat, looked like a tiny little king—and as one of the feline attendees of the city’s first Internet Cat Video Festival held at the Great Wall of Oakland downtown, he was.

As he was maneuvered through the crowd of several thousand people here, Teddy in his chariot was surrounded at every turn by cooing kitty groupies. Many wore cat-themed T-shirts, while some, including Teddy’s owner, Yachi Singh, were actually dressed up as felines, complete with fake ears and drawn-on whiskers.

“What better excuse to bring this indoor cat out here, to let him socialize a little bit, than a cat video festival,” Singh said, as her husband, Ratti, stood nearby, wearing an amused smile. Inside his stroller, Teddy, whose tiny legs were no more than four inches tall, cautiously sniffed the air and yawned.

Teddy was among several cats who accompanied their owners to what could be easily described as a feline lovefest. On Saturday afternoon, thousands of people turned out for a block party featuring local bands dressed up as cats, comedians telling cat jokes and even a troupe of cat-themed dancers.

Steps from the stage were dozens of booths selling artisan cat merchandise, including everything from art prints of cats dressed up as superheroes like Iron Man to $12 packets of “Meowy Wowyy”—organic catnip held in a felt packet shaped like a marijuana leaf.

“One of our best sellers,” the vendor said.

But the real attraction came just after sundown, when a 70-minute reel of the most popular cat videos on the Internet was beamed onto the side of a 10-story building here in the city’s historic downtown district. The clips, compiled by Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center for its inaugural cat video film festival last summer, featured everything from cats behaving badly to a feline cast as a depressed French existentialist.

At moments, the meows of the feline film stars seemed to reverberate off the buildings—though that was often drowned out by the laughter and coos of a clearly delighted crowd of cat lovers, who wildly cheered their favorite clips.

Barbara Henninger, who drove from nearby Berkeley for the festival, dressed up a black cat for the day—complete with drawn-on whiskers and a headband of felt black ears.

“I love cats, I love cat videos, and I really love being around cat people,” Henninger said. “There is something about cats that are really peaceful. They are gentle and loving, and I like to be around people like that.”

She added, “I knew there wouldn’t be any violence here.”

But there were some tensions, including when one man walked into the festival with his brown Beagle on a leash.

“NO DOGS ALLOWED,” an older woman standing nearby yelled, even though dogs actually were permitted by the festival's organizers.

The man just shrugged, smiled and continued walking with his pooch.

"Some people," the woman huffed.