News & Politics

Love Your Pets: Crazy For Cats

They don’t have “yappy hours” or off-leash parks, but these devoted cat owners are passionate about their pets.

David Catania

DC Council member

Cats: Lillian Rosenberg and Woody Levinson

“I discovered cats and gin when I turned 35,” says David Catania. “It was a great year.”

Once solely a dog person, Catania—who was first elected to the DC Council in 1997—noticed Lilly at a PetSmart while running errands in 2003. He watched the kitten, a rescue from Madison County, Virginia, playing with her sister in their cage and couldn’t get the yellow tabby out of his head. A few days later, Catania returned to the store and brought Lilly home.

“She doesn’t require anything from anybody,” he says. “She’s very strong-willed. She is the anti-pet. She is slightly resentful that she doesn’t have opposable thumbs and therefore requires me to feed her and change her litter. Other than that, she wants literally nothing to do with me.”

Woody joined the family in 2005 and couldn’t be more different. The gray-and-black tabby follows Catania wherever he goes and sleeps beside him each night. A third cat, Morty Schwartz, passed away the day before Barack Obama was elected President.

“Our week was terrible,” says Catania. “Everyone in the house was very excited about the new President, but we still had to be respectful.”

Mark McInturff

Architect and owner of Bethesda-based McInturff Architects

Cat: Pouf

Given that he’s an award-winning architect, it’s not surprising that aesthetics are important to Mark McInturff, even when it comes to his pets.

“I live sort of alone—my son is sometimes with me and sometimes at college,” McInturff says. “So it’s nice to have a little warm, furry thing around. And she’s ornamental. The visual part is really important.”

Pouf, a 13-year-old Russian blue, is the most recent in a long list of cats McInturff has had since childhood. A dog, with its daily walks, has never worked with his schedule.

“I think most cat people sort of need a little bit less contact, or really only have time for less contact,” he says. “A dog is a more demanding thing.”

Lambert Orkis

Grammy-winning pianist and National Symphony Orchestra principal keyboardist

Cats: Spirit, Phantom, and Geist

Lambert Orkis’s cats don’t care about his Grammy Award. The three Russian blues that Orkis and his wife, Jan, adopted from the same litter five years ago much prefer settling atop one of the warm pieces of electronic equipment he keeps in his home music studio along with the gold statuette—especially Spirit.

“If our piano technician comes over to take the piano apart,” Orkis says, “Spirit’s right there watching.”

The distinct personalities and curious nature of cats first drew the couple to them in the early 1980s, when they took in a stray. Three rounds of cats later, they’re still smitten, and the animals’ differences still surprise them: While Geist keeps to himself, Spirit is so outgoing that Orkis walks him outside their Arlington home on a leash. Phantom, he says, is so graceful he can jump onto a piano without making a sound.

The Russian blues’ personalities aren’t the only thing to love.”Gray cats are practical,” says Orkis. “You don’t see the fur that much, especially on concert clothing.”

Eleanor Clift

Author and Newsweek and Daily Beast contributor

Cats: Precious and Little Tom

By the time she came to Washington to cover the Carter administration in 1976, Eleanor Clift was a seasoned cat owner. When she was young, her family kept a cat for mouse control around the delicatessen they owned in Brooklyn and later in Queens.

Clift’s work keeps her busy, but “Preshie,” an 11-year-old calico, and her kitten “Tom Cat,” now ten, love people, so she tries not to leave them alone for long.

The journalist doesn’t only look out for her own pets. She and a neighbor feed a family of feral cats near their Northwest DC homes. Clift and her cats have also appeared in public-service announcements and flyers for the Washington Humane Society, where she adopted Precious and Little Tom, and for the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Says Clift: “A German woman who took care of me when I was a child used to tell me that I was going to grow up to be an old maid because I loved cats too much, and that always haunted me. But I figure now that I’ve been divorced and I’ve been widowed, I don’t have to pretend anymore.”

Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray

Restaurateurs behind DC’s Equinox and Watershed restaurants and Harvest Moon Hospitality Group

Cats: Ice, Hockey, and Elena

Chef Todd Gray and his wife and business partner, Ellen, brought more differences to their marriage than just religions and culinary styles. Says Ellen: “He started out as a cat person and I started out as a dog person, and we met in the middle.”

With two Maine coons, an orange-and-white long-haired tabby, and two German shepherds at home, the Grays—whose son, Harrison, is 12—have a full house.

The Maine coons, Hockey and Ice, were terrified of the dogs at first, spending much of their first three years hiding in a heated cathouse outside. Eventually, they got bolder and made their way inside, though Ice still prefers the porch.

“Hockey rules those dogs like nobody’s business,” she says. “He does a little hiss, and 220 pounds of animal between them back down like Mama’s babies.”

Elena—a male tabby named for the former housekeeper who left him with the family—moved in a few years later.

Like their canine and feline housemates, the Grays have become experienced with compromise. “I’ve learned about owning dogs now for the past 16 years,” says Todd, who grew up with Persian cats. “My experience is this: You totally own dogs, while cats totally own you.”

Mary Bird

Philanthropist and society columnist for the Georgetowner Newspaper

Cats: Sam and Slutie

It’s clear that Sam and Slutie (pronounced Slooty) rule Mary Bird’s apartment near Washington National Cathedral. The 13-year-old Burmese siblings’ toy basket is overflowing, and Bird has two framed portraits of the cats in her bedroom.

“Their paws have never touched pavement,” she says. “They have their annual visit to the vet, which is very traumatic, and other than that they go out in the hall. That’s a big adventure.”

The cats are not Bird’s first Sam and Slutie. When she and her late husband, Collins Bird—the hotelier who opened and for many years operated the Georgetown Inn—lost 17-year-old Sam and 19-year-old Slutie, they brought home another set of Burmese kittens: “I said, ‘What are we going to call them?’ And he said, ‘We’re not changing their names.’ So they are Sam 2 and Slutie 2.”

Photographs by Vincent Ricardel.

Se all Love Your Pets stories.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.