When Kyle Cassidy learned that a stray cat was frequenting his friend’s porch in West Philly, the longtime feline foster dad offered to take the girl in, certain he could find a home for her in three days or less.
Cassidy posted pictures of the black-and-white cat on Facebook and Twitter in June and asked his thousands of followers to help name her. It was decided Stabatha would be her primary name, though she would also have alternative nicknames (Cat Batman and Jolt Cola) to be used when appropriate.
When his name-that-cat experiment didn’t elicit any adoption offers, Cassidy, 54, a West Philly writer and photographer, penned a few epic Facebook posts extolling Stabatha’s virtues: “She has an IQ of 122, speaks some French, and has put three stockbrokers in prison for insider trading.”
“I thought she’d find a home quickly, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “Nobody expressed any interest in her, and I was in shock.”
But people were paying attention. Deanna Leist Aliano, a Point Pleasant, N.J., artist who’s friends with Cassidy on Facebook, painted a portrait of Stabatha as an incentive for prospective adopters.
Inspired by that work, Cassidy created an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise money to pay out-of-work artists microgrants of $50 to paint Stabatha’s portrait, in the hope that the artworks might move someone to adopt her.
“It was all part of a not really elaborate plot to keep her on people’s minds and have a street team trying to find her a home,” he said.
Since he began the campaign Monday, Cassidy has raised more than $600 ($100 more than his goal) and has given out seven grants. Artists from London to Italy have submitted portraits of Stabatha, portraying her as everything from a doctor fighting COVID-19 to an isolated kitty living in a surveillance state.
“It’s interesting to see our times reflected through the pressures on these artists,” Cassidy said of the portraits. “They are compressed like coal, and the pressures that are on them are popping out in some of this art.”
Stabatha herself is under some pressure. The cat with the clipped ear tip (which means at some point she was likely trapped, spayed, and released) was diagnosed with feline leukemia virus (FelV) when Cassidy took her to the vet. The median survival time for cats after a FelV diagnosis is about 2½ years and since the virus is transmissible between felines, Cassidy must keep Stabatha in his enclosed front porch, separated from his own house cat.
But despite her intimidating name and medical diagnosis, Stabatha — one of more than 400,000 stray cats in Philadelphia — is as affectionate and snuggly as they come, Cassidy said.
“She’s extraordinarily chatty. When I come down to visit her in the morning, she tells me the story of the entire night, of all the birds and opossums that walked past the window,” he said. “But when you sit down, she’ll curl up on your foot.”
The first painting of Stabatha that was created and paid for by Cassidy’s fundraising campaign came from New York City-based artist Mia Wolff, who painted Stabatha in a reclined pose in just three hours.
Ambler-based artist Lynette Shelley, 45, a Facebook friend of Cassidy’s who’s been following Stabatha’s story, also submitted a portrait.
“I was getting ready to do a new painting anyway, and I figured, ‘You know what? I’ll do one of Stabatha,‘” she said. “I hope she finds a home, and I’m hoping it will get a little attention for the artists.”
Those who receive grants from Cassidy for the portraits of Stabatha send digital images of their works for Cassidy to use but get to keep the original. If Shelley sells her portrait, she said, she will donate 40% of the proceeds to a cat trap-and-release program in New Jersey.
Of the submissions Cassidy has received, the most surprising one came from Peter Yates, the former guitarist for Cassidy’s favorite band, Fields of the Nephilim, a London-based goth rock group.
“I followed him on Twitter and mentioned him in quite a number of sycophantic tweets. Astonishingly, he followed me back,” Cassidy said. “Then, out of the blue, I got this email from him that said, ‘I painted Stabatha for you.‘”
Cassidy said Yates didn’t want money for his portrait, which portrays Stabatha alone in a cinderblock room, under the watchful eyes of two surveillance cameras.
“I assume he has coffins full of money at home,” Cassidy said. “He said he’d mail it to me and I could auction it off for the cat.”
Other people have proposed sculptures and cat-size poetry books in honor of Stabatha. One woman received a grant from Cassidy for an essay about her experiences with homelessness and how the love of her cats helped her through.
Artists interested in applying for a Stabatha grant can reach Cassidy through his website (kylecassidy.com) and send him a link to their portfolio before creating any works. He doesn’t want anybody to lift a paintbrush or pen in Stabatha’s name until they have a grant from him.
“Some people have volunteered. I’ve discouraged it because everybody expects artists to work for free and I don’t want to perpetuate that,” he said. “But if you’re a famous rock star and you send me a painting, I’m not going to send it back.”
Cassidy said he’s already had people from as far away as Georgia and Virginia offer to drive up and adopt Stabatha, but he wants her to remain a Philly cat.
“I think stray cat problems are local and perennial,” he said. “If you drive up from Georgia to get this stray cat, you’re driving past thousands of other stray cats.”
Those interested in applying to adopt Stabatha can contact City Kitties, the Philadelphia foster-based rescue service that’s handling her adoption. She’s received three local adoption applications so far, but Cassidy is hoping for many more, so City Kitties can find her the best home.
“This is a win-win-win situation. It’s a perpetual motion machine of joy. Everybody gets something out of it,” he said. “Artists get groceries. The cat gets a home. And I get my front porch back.”