Cat lady Vanessa Gadberry on cat tattoos ('cattoos') and making great cat vids

This lovely tribute tattoo took monthly four-hour sessions over six months time.

This lovely tribute tattoo took monthly four-hour sessions over six months time. Jerry Johanning

Tonight, cat people from all over Minnesota will converge on CHS Field for the annual Cat Video Festival. Since 2012, this has been the premiere event for cat enthusiasts to come together and spend an evening celebrating the greatest and most important contributions in internet feline cinema.

Cat Video Festival

CHS Field
$10; $75 VIP

While the term “crazy cat person” gets thrown around quite a bit, the reality is that when it comes to cat-fandom, it takes a lot of eccentricities and borderline obsession -- or a big-ass cat tattoo -- to truly stand out in the crowd.

Vanessa Gadberry is a local multimedia art director, as well as a self-described “zookeeper.” She has a life-sized, realistic portrait of her late cat, Squirrel, tattooed on her chest. Her love of cats (and, more specifically, her own cats) puts other people’s human-feline relationships to shame, making her the perfect person to discuss the elements of a good cat video.

Let's talk credentials. What makes you such an incredible cat enthusiast?

As an only child raised solely by cats, I have a wealth of cat-specific knowledge. 

But listen, we could psychoanalyze that all day. When it comes down to it, I love all animals. But there's just something special about felines. Cats don't have to like you. In fact, it's best to assume they don't. If and when a cat does warm up, you know you can trust that your friendship is authentic. Unless you have food, then they for sure just want the food. Your friendship means nothing.

When and where did you get your epic cat tattoo (or cattoo, as it were)?

Ben Rettke of Creative Images [a tattoo and body piercing shop in Fridley] designed my cattoo. We met once a month, four hours each session, for six months. I specifically sought out Ben because of his amazing work in realism, talent with white ink, and beautifully fluid line work. He's actually really allergic to cats. I made sure to extra lint roll myself before each session. You're welcome, Ben.

What did your friends and family say about it when they first saw it?

When I first mentioned I was going to get a cattoo, the natural assumption was that it would probably [be] small, something "cute" in remembrance of my cat Squirrel.

My inner circle knew my intentions, and after the first session of outlining work it became clear to everyone just how serious this cattoo was getting.

In all actuality, I dress fairly conservatively. Even in the summer months I keep my cattoo mostly covered when I'm in the sun. It's great when the cattoo sneaks up on people, and they have that moment of, 'Oh, you have an entire cat on your chest... right there, staring at me.'

So on to the Cat Video Festival. How much time in a given week would you say you spend watching cats, playing with cats, filming/Snapchatting cats, and just generally thinking about cats?

All of those categories combined? I could provide a breakdown by activity, but the cumulative is: All of the time. If I'm at home, my time is spent trying to make sure my white cat, Fennec, isn't destroying anything. When I'm at work, I think about what Fennec could be destroying. Did I leave something out? Did she figure out how to scale the half-wall in order to shred the plants? Is she body-slamming the windows as people pass by, in a desperate attempt for second breakfast?

Just when cats are finally off my mind, someone sends me a cat video, because I'm definitely the person everyone sends their cat videos to.

What elements, in your mind, make up a quality cat video?

A quality cat video has to be completely unstaged. A cat knows when you're trying to get shifty. In fact, if your cat senses you're watching at all there's a good chance it won't perform. Instead you'll be met with an unwavering glare of judgment. Very unsettling.

To avoid complete rejection of your worth, you must not get caught. Think like a cat. Here are some tips and tricks I can offer:

  • Instead of peeking around a corner at normal human-height (where they'll be expecting to see you), get down on the ground.
  • Don't even look with your eyes. If they're doing something awesome they'll be made aware that you're watching before you can get your phone out.
  • Have your phone already recording as you ease it around the corner. Please note how much cat fur has gathered on the ground your face is now laying on, circle back to Swiffer that later.
  • If that strategy produces nothing, pretend you're taking a selfie, while secretly recording your cat over your shoulder. (Maybe also be taking a selfie, to be the most productive.)

Expect to fail, but keep trying. Eventually you'll catch the evidence you need to finally convince all of your friends and coworkers that your cat is really as hilarious as you've always said.

Also, be ready for the social dismissal that comes with your newfound evidence. They're just jealous.

If you could only watch one cat video for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I'm unsure how to answer this, as I reject the reality where I must choose just one cat video.


Cat Video Festival
CHS Field
8 p.m. Tuesday, 
August 9
$10 general admission; children 5 and under free
Click here for more details