• Sigi with some of her cats, in ‘Cat Ladies’ (SBS)Source: SBS
When it comes to owning cats, can you ever stop at just one?
By
Lisa Ikin

30 Aug 2021 - 9:48 AM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2021 - 9:54 AM

“Cats are the most beautiful animals in the world,” says Margot, who shares her cat-themed home with three pampered felines. She wishes she could form a relationship with another person that equals the bond she has with her three cats Fritz, Bongo and Little One.

Welcome to Cat Ladies, a candid and compelling dive into the lives of Margot, Jenny, Dianne and Sigi, four women who have little in common with one another besides their love for cats. 

From Canadian filmmaker Christie Callan-Jones, Cat Ladies is an intimate tour of the four women’s lives, cat hair and all. The women are clearly at ease as they share amusing anecdotes and their inner-most feelings. Phillip Strong’s mesmerising soundtrack, for which he won a Gemini Award, accompanies each woman’s backstory. They reveal life events which have resulted in feelings of loss or trauma. These stories could be any woman’s story, or for that matter, any human’s story.

When SBS spoke with director, Christie Callan-Jones this week she said, “I think the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype is another way to devalue single women by saying they can’t get a man, so they turn to cats to fill that void. Personally, I think it’s both derogatory and misogynistic. The women I met while making the film and since who have close relationships with their cats are far more than any label like ‘crazy cat lady’. They’re multifaceted, engaged and live full lives that just happen to include close relationships with their cats.”

Margot collects cat whiskers in a tin. She is single and owns the least number of cats of the four women. She claims, “I don’t live alone; I live with my three cats.” Adopted at birth, Margot always felt different to the rest of her family. She says she finds it difficult to form relationships of the human kind.

Jenny, 35, has 16 cats and a dog. She is single and works in real estate. She says, “life without my cats wouldn’t be a life.” She sees nothing wrong with having so many cats and says it is no one else’s business if that’s how she chooses to live her life. She admits to wishing she didn’t have quite so many as she has stopped forming relationships and finds it difficult to travel.

Dianne is in her 60s and she has 123 cats in her house. When Dianne lost her job as a corporate businesswoman, she started rescuing cats. She now walks the streets of Toronto looking for feral felines. Her monthly food, litter and vet expenses of more than $3,000 mean she is deep in debt. She cannot remember the last time she slept through the night and resents that she no longer sees her family. 

Sigi is in her 60s and she has rescued over 3,000 cats from the streets. Her house is full of felines. She calls herself the Mother Teresa of cats and believes she is saner than the crazy people who abandon them. Sigi and her house of cats have been the brunt of many neighbourhood complaints. The smell has driven neighbours to contact the press.

For Dianne and Sigi, the compulsion to rescue cats has reached a point where they could be described as animal hoarders. Their homes are overrun by cats and they spend hours trying to capture strays and give them a home.

Agent Trey Smith of the Toronto Humane Society reveals in the documentary that he believes cat hoarders and rescuers are the same. He says both rescuers and hoarders feel they are doing the right thing, but that feral cats cannot be socialised and are better off on the streets. He estimates there are up to 10,000 feral cats on the streets of Toronto and rescuing them all is not possible.

While every case is different, there has been some research, such as a 2017 Brazilian study and a 2014 Australian study, which supports the idea that women are more likely than men to hoard animals.

For the four women in Cat Ladies, it’s not the number of cats they have that defines their lives, but their struggles with issues that many people face every day, including loss and loneliness.

Far from a witch hunt, or an attention-grabbing exposé of women with cats, Cat Ladies is a sometimes amusing, occasionally sad and very human encounter with four women who are devoted to cats. 

Cat Ladies premieres on SBS Viceland at 9.25pm, Tuesday 31 August and is then available to stream at SBS On Demand until 20 September.

 

Follow the author @lisabenjessica

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