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CatConLA: A West Coast Cat Lover’s Valhalla

A digital clock counts down the seconds. We’re trapped. A giant stuffed mouse has keeled over on the floor next to an 8-foot-tall cat scratcher topped with brightly colored whiffle balls. At the far end of the room, we sift through a box of pellet litter to discover the word “ten” in blue letters. More cryptic messages are found throughout. Someone has scrawled “2, 2, 4, 21, 12” in black and yellow numbers on the wall. Giant Lego blocks in the same colors are scattered outside the litterbox. Large Crayons, giant feather toy wands and a yarn ball many times bigger than my head—all orange—line one side of the wall. Across from these is a big red tunnel and a red ball. Oversized Scrabble letters that spell out the word “half” lean against the tunnel. Most tantalizingly, a big stuffed bag of catnip with a combination lock lies on the floor.

I didn’t solve the clues in time to break out of Animal Planet’s Cat in a Box Escape Room, but I came away with an excellent consolation prize: a cardboard box for my cat.

Our mission? Escape the giant cardboard box in 15 minutes or less. We’ve been given the vague instructions “think like a cat.” I can’t recall any cat knowing so much math. To be fair, the organizers behind Animal Planet’s Cat in a Box Escape Room have handed us a two-way radio, and over the course of 15 minutes, they give us a lot of hints. I feel a boost of feline confidence once I figure out that the red ball goes in the tunnel. When it hits the wall, it triggers a laser—or, in cat speak, “the red dot”—which traces out the number “6” on the wall.   

In the end, we didn’t solve enough of the clues to get the four-number combination that would have opened the catnip bag and revealed a collar, which would have let us out of the room. Lucky for us, the Animal Planet team decided to let us out anyway, and I even got a consolation prize: a cardboard box for my kitty, part of Animal Planet’s #ififitsisits Twitter campaign.

Thus started my day of endless feline fun at CatConLA, which took place June 25 and 26 in Los Angeles. I spent hours trawling the products booths, which included a combination of cat products and items for cat lovers. The variety of cat art, featured on everything from prints to cards to T-shirts and jewelry and even temporary tattoos, was astounding and encompassed styles to suit everyone. There were depictions of cats in clothes, cats as loaves, snarky cats, cats rendered in gorgeous realistic detail, cats as popular fantasy characters, such as Red Riding Hood, cartoon cats … and the list goes on.

I hope that many retailers were able to visit CatConLA, as it offered both the chance to connect with the cat-loving public and discover manufacturers with unique products that can make a store’s cat section stand out. Some trade show staples were at CatConLA: Rolf C. Hagen was showing off its Vesper cat furniture, and PetPals Group had a space; World’s Best Cat Litter had a large booth and was able to talk to cat owners one on one about the brand’s cat litter and offered a photo booth; Healthy Pet supplied free-litter coupons and a photo booth where attendees could pose with cardboard cat cutouts and have their pictures emailed to them. A few of the big pet food brands were present.

But the show also had several hidden-gem manufacturers, such as Polydactyl, which offers fun catnip-filled takeout-food-inspired toys, in shapes like hot sauce packets, sushi, french fries and hot dogs, and Made by Cleo, which sells fashionable collars for cats and small dogs as well as collar accessories that are handmade in Austin, Texas.

Piers Hampson, head of marketing for SureFlap, which has U.S. headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., said he jumped at the chance to secure a booth and was eager to get consumer feedback.

“We don’t get often the chance to talk to owners, so I’m loving the fact that I can spend some time with owners, chatting about their problems and really show them how our products can make a difference,” he said.

​SureFlap offered a sneak peak of its Sure Hub Internet Pet Door, which is set to launch in 2017. The Sure Hub will allow owners to monitor and control their pet door remotely and view usage data on their smartphone. Eventually, SureFlap hopes to integrate data from the Sure Hub with data from its SureFeed Sealed Pet Bowl and SureFeed Micro Chip Pet Feeder. The goal, Hampson said, is to improve pets’ lives by making it easy for owners to monitor their habits and, therefore, glean information about their health.

I came away from CatConLA blown away by the selection of merchandise, but there were plenty of other exciting things for cat people to do besides shop. The line was long at the Rachael Ray Nutrish Cat Caricature Station, where an artist used a person’s photo of their cat to draw a caricature of the owner (combining their characteristics with their pet’s). Free “caticures” were available—express manicures with cat decals. And attendees could head downstairs to the 1,000-square-foot Kat Von D Beauty Bar to have cat eye makeup applied. For the crafty, there was a Kitty Coloring Collective sponsored by Colorwear; attendees could color in a T-shirt embedded with cat line art.

Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman in the 1960s “Batman” TV series, was at CatConLA to greet fans.

The Clowder Adoption Lounge, built by Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Petco, offered a novel way for potential pet owners to greet cats in need of a home. Instead of viewing row after row of metal cages, attendees spent time with cats in comfy rooms designed to look like home, complete with furniture, pillows, rugs and other accessories.

This kitty lover was not lucky enough to snag a meet and greet, but some attendees met with celeb cats Pudge, Nala and Lil Bub. The cats were so popular, in fact, that some of the meet and greets sold out before the show.

There was even a human celeb on-site: Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman in the 1960s “Batman” TV series, met with fans in the CatCon Muse Lounge.

I left the show late Saturday afternoon, arms replete with cat lady swag, thinking, “Next year, I better buy a weekend pass.”

Carrie Brenner is senior editor for Pet Product News International. She has spent several years researching new products with the help of her cat, Amelia.

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