My epic weekend at Cat Camp NYC 2019

Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp NYC sounded like an excellent educational conference for me, as I knew nothing about trap-neuter-return or orphaned kitten care, I’ve followed some of the speakers on social media, and had watched many of Jackson Galaxy’s tv shows on Animal Planet. I have literally tens of thousands of pictures of cats from pet visits on my computer. So I signed up, waited and waited, and finally drove 600+ kilometres last weekend to get there.

I’m originally from New Jersey, and often went up to New York City to see museums and shows when I was growing up. I didn’t have time for any of that on this visit, though I did briefly walk around Central Park and visited Trader Joe’s. I settled my family with more family, and then went off to the cat fair.

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Sights of New York City. The Trader Joe’s shopping basket was on the second day, when I learned that I needed to stay hydrated and well-fed to get me through the day. On my first trip there, I came back with mostly chocolate…

I spent the first day of the two-day conference in back to back sessions. I was amongst the first to line up and get funneled into the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, and almost skipped lunch so I wouldn’t miss anything. It was intense and I learned so much. I even got certified in trap-neuter-return in NYC, which means I am eligible to borrow humane traps from the NYC ASPCA.

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Taken from the CatCampNYC instagram. I had arrived an hour early, and stopped by Trader Joe’s for souvenir items (like a one pound bar of Belgian milk chocolate). I later used that bag to help carry the informational booklets, vendor prizes, and Litter Genie that I won.

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Many great sessions. Everyone was really passionate, well-spoken, and knowledgeable about their topic and field. As was pointed out, most of the participants have “day jobs,” and do their work with community cats during their off hours. Many of the vendors and some of the speakers were New Yorkers.

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I got to play around with this trap, which can be borrowed from the ASPCA to trap, sterilize, and return community cats back outside. Douglas, the stuffed cat, was an excellent model.

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From the Kitten Lady’s Instagram. There I am, by the column, dutifully uploading pictures and posting onto Instagram as it was happening.

 

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We got these cute buttons, like camp merit badges, after some of the sessions, which were great conversation starters on the NYC subway and also when I returned to Montreal. Sadly, I’ve already lost one or two… (I’m an active mom!)

Had I known how much wonderful cat stuff would be for sale at the expo, I would have budgeted accordingly! I could hear my wallet crying every time I took it out (USD to CAD exchange rate and all, too!). I met a number of people who attended solely for the expo. The vendors said some people took pictures of all of the booths, went away to decide what they wanted, then came back to purchase. There were lots of handmade cat greeting cards. One took custom orders; you send her a picture of your cat, and she would draw custom greeting cards featuring them right there at her table. There were witty and/or cute cat t-shirts, cat toys, whisker jewelry, cat bow ties (I got two for Olaf), signed Jackson Galaxy Convertible Cat Backpack Carriers from Your Cat Backpack, Toasty Cat cat beds, cat caves made out of wool, cat books, cat accessories. I kept passing by the Meowtropolitan Trading table, which had many adorable Neko Atsume accessories; I nearly walked away with a Pepper keychain, but I restricted my purchases to practical items. Like socks with cats on them and a t-shirt from the Kitten Lady table styled after the Morton salt canister (you’d have to be American to get it – Morton salt has an iconic label of a girl with an umbrella on it), but with pouring kittens. And a t-shirt of a “badass cat,” which I selected because of its Mom tattoo. The vendor told me that image came in smoking and non-smoking, due to customer request. I was able to get two signed copies of Hello! My Name is Bunny , about a rescued cat who lives in NYC and makes friends with other animals in his building. A signed copy of Andrew Marttila’s photo book, Cats on Catnip.

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I also bought a copy of Jackson Galaxy’s latest book, Total Cat Mojo. I asked the vendor about signed copies, and he counseled me to “hunt down Jackson Galaxy – who, by the way, is 6’3” – and force him to sign it for me. “He’s a softie,” he assured me. Yeah. Like that was going to happen.

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The expo at opening on the first day. It became packed with people. The Jackson Galaxy cat backpacks on the right looked well-made and some were even signed! I asked the vendor what to do if the cat has an accident in one, and she said you can even hose it down if necessary.

 

The second day was not as tightly packed with sessions for me, so I was able to spend more time in the expo section and chat with some of the vendors. One, for a pet dental supplement, had lived in Outremont, and we bonded over a mutual affection for Bilboquet ice cream. I tested some of the toys at the Petco table. I stopped by an animal trainer’s table, who was friends with a pet sitter I had met at last year’s Pet Sitters World conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s amazing how small the world is, and the Power of Connection (the theme from that conference). She gave me a few tips on clicker training cats.

After Jackson Galaxy’s final keynote talk, in which he empowered us to get out there and do something, I knew the conference was closing down. Vendors were packing up and leaving, people were clearing out. Then I spotted him, Jackson, making the rounds of the vendors, stopping to chat and take pictures with them if requested. He spent several moments at each table, giving each vendor his full attention. This was my chance to approach him to sign my copy of his book, which I had brought back with me that day, just in case. (In hindsight, I should have asked co-author Mikel Delgado to sign it, too, as I had attended her session on lessening stress in shelter cats.)

I spent several minutes furtively stalking his progress, and becoming increasingly stressed because I just wasn’t sure if I could make myself approach him. I tried giving myself a pep talk. I had driven 360 miles to attend this conference. I was missing out on showing my daughter New York City for the first time for this conference. I couldn’t tell my daughter that I was so close and yet didn’t even try to get my book signed. I was a fan of his. He seemed like a nice, approachable guy and only had a couple people as an entourage. A picture with Jackson Galaxy would be fantastic for my business’s social media posts, and I while I was having a great time, I was here for business purposes. I could get my book signed. But still I had trouble mustering the courage to get anywhere near him. I’m a shy, reserved introvert. It’s a major effort for me to talk with anyone. The more I want to talk to someone, the harder it becomes. It’s almost like having an invisible force field between me and others. I become increasingly mute, anxious, and desperate to leave. I had already drained all of my social chutzpah during the past few days, talking with other attendees, vendors, and just by being around so many people at once and engaging with random people at every turn. The problem was more that he was a stranger, rather than that he was a famous person and I was a fangirl. Ok, maybe a little of that, too.

Finally, a very nice couple I had been bumping into all weekend at session after session took me figuratively by the hand and helped me do what I need to do. I blurted out to them that I wanted to get my book signed and maybe snap a selfie, but I was too shy and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ask for it. The no-nonsense woman marched right over to where Jackson Galaxy was chatting with a vendor, and I just couldn’t let her put herself out there and do all the work for me, even though I was so touched by her immediate show of support. I followed her over there, and was able to find my voice and ask his handler permission. And then I was chatting with the Cat Daddy himself! He signed my book, he told me the Montreal Cat Expo in April (which I hadn’t been able to get tickets to) had been his first time in Montreal. He was just as nice, gracious, and “real” as you’d think he would be. He took a picture with me!!!!

This was the proudest moment of the conference for me. This was something I could use as a teaching moment for myself, and a moment for which my daughter could be proud of her mom. I could share this story proudly and excitedly. I did it! My wingman counseled me that she, too, used to be shy, but that you don’t want to have regrets. You have to at least try. She was right, of course. I am realizing this more with age. I am so grateful for her kindness and support. And then the couple simply exited, as I was doing, and left. From their matching shirts, I believe they are from www.barncatbuddies.org in Virginia. This conference really had the nicest, most supportive people.

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My moment with the Cat Daddy himself, Jackson Galaxy! Impressed at how he was able to speak normally with me at the end of a long weekend. Grateful, pleased, and oh so proud of myself for even asking for the opportunity. Thanks, Jackson! And thank you, Barn Cat Buddies! A proud, perfect end to a great conference.

 

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