The Line Between Cat Fancy and Cat Crazy

Film explores inner lives of women the world sees as "crazy cat ladies."

ByABC News
November 9, 2009, 10:11 AM

Nov. 13, 2009 — -- Single. Female. Three Cats.

Red flag! For most people, the combo invites the label Cat Lady, says Christie Callan-Jones, a filmmaker.

Callan-Jones' latest documentary, "Cat Ladies," tells the stories of four women and their devotion to their cats. Elizabeth Vargas of ABC's "20/20" recently sat down with Callan-Jones to examine the unique relationship some women have with their feline companions.

For some of the women, pet ownership has turned into an obsession with cats, or an addiction to helping cats. But what made the women "cat ladies," Vargas found, was more than the number of cats the woman owned, be it three or 123. More influential was the emotional attachment between pet and owner.

CLICK HERE for photos of women who hoard cats

The film began as an idea of Suzanne Mullett of Chocolate Box Entertainment. Jeannette Loakman and Sally Blake of Chocolate Box produced the film.

"About 10 years ago, I was being called a 'cat lady' -- mainly out of jest but with a hint of disdain," Mullett said. "At the time I was living with two other people and we had five cats in the household, two were mine, two were my roommate's and one was a friend of mine's who moved and couldn't take her cat with her. The term initially angered me because you could tell it wasn't a compliment. Then it started to intrigue me -- about where this term came from -- and I began to start seeing images and references [to] the 'cat lady' in the media all the time."

"The most common [cat lady type] is a female character," Mullett said. "Single of course, lamenting that she can never own a cat because once you have one you won't be far away from being the cat lady of the neighborhood."

The "Cat Ladies" film crew interviewed hundreds of potential cat ladies and ultimately found four brave women, all from the Toronto area: Margot, Jenny, Diane and Sigi, who don't use last names in the film.

Margot has three cats -- Bongo, Fritz and Little One. They are her entire world. When she wakes up in the morning, they are there to greet her with purrs and kisses. But as much as her devotion to her cats is a central part of her life, she is very lonely, very much in need of a friend, she says. Her relationship with her cats might be hindering her developing friendships with human beings.

Margot was adopted. Her adoptive family was overachieving, she said, and she felt she never lived up to her parents' expectations. She has worked as a receptionist but longs for more.

"I think I should be at a certain place in my life at my age and I'm not," Margot said. She sees her cats as the only "people" who really love her.

"My cats, that's what saved me," she said. "They love me, they weren't mad at me, they accepted me for who I was."

At the same time Margot seems to crave a human connection. "I don't think people know I'm as lonely as I am," she said. "I try not to think about it myself, but I am. I need more than the cat.

"I hope someday to have a relationship with a person that is just as amazing. But for now cats is where it's at."

Since the documentary was produced in the fall of 2008, all three of Margot's cats have died.

Bongo died of feline leukemia and Little One was killed by a dog that was visiting the apartment -- a tragedy which Margot is still reeling from. Fritz died of old age.

Margot has two new, energetic cats that she says she's ecstatic about.

Their names are Dubhe and Merak, named after stars in the Big Dipper. They turned one on Halloween.