Chris Dachi grew up in six countries as the son of an American diplomat and has consequently had a lot of diverse life experiences. But until he was in his mid-40s, he believes he had probably never petted a cat. He was busy as a lawyer and a national security advisor and didn’t want anything much to do with felines.
“I was pathologically opposed to anything to do with cats,” he recalls.
“I was very, very allergic. They scared me.”
But when he and his now wife decided to get married, she confided in him that she couldn’t really see herself living a life without any cats. And so it all began.
Chris and his wife, who lived in Arlington, VA, at the time, started their cat-rescuing journey the way many people do. They contacted shelters and looked for felines that were in need of a home, and they found two beautiful Siamese sisters named Itsy and Domino. Chris started getting allergy shots so he could stand to live with the pair, but he told his wife he wouldn’t take responsibility for them.
“I was very clear. I said, you know, ‘They’re gonna be your cats. They’re not going to be allowed in the bedroom. I’m not gonna do anything with them.’ So we agreed on that. And within about two days, they were daddy’s little girls, and I had become a cat person.”
Of course, Chris says it might have been just as easy for him to become a dog person if his wife had wanted dogs, or a baby goat person if she’d said she wanted baby goats, or even a raccoon or a skunk person, but cats are what he ended up with. It’s really his sense of justice and his appreciation of the “purity and goodness” of animals that has allowed him to become a true cat whisperer.
Itsy and Domino are now 19 years old and still feature prominently on their human dad’s Instagram account. But they aren’t what gave the Cat Man of San Marcos his name. Moving to San Marcos, Texas, of course, was the next step, and then a chance encounter in a parking lot launched Chris down a new turn in his life.
“One night, we went out to dinner, and we came out, and there were all these kittens running around in the parking lot,” Chris remembers. “And my wife said, ‘Wow, we can’t leave them, can we? They’re hungry.’ And so we grabbed one of them. He was the first rescue, a tiny little kitten that had bad ringworm.”
Sunshine, as the orange kitten came to be called, was Chris’s unintentional beginning in the rescue world. After that, he and his wife mulled over what to do about the rest of the cats they’d seen in the parking lot. They couldn’t adopt them all, especially because the adults were feral and not suited to domesticated life, but they decided to at least go and feed them the next day.
“And then that just became every single day for three freaking years,” says Chris. “Rain or shine, out of the hospital after surgery, humped over, can’t bear the thought of the cats not getting fed. Christmas morning, New Year’s, because, well, cats don’t know holidays. Every day, they want to eat, oddly enough. And that became my first colony.”
Out of a sense of need to do something for the poor creatures, Chris took the entire colony of cats under his wing. Over the course of three years before moving to Austin, he trapped as many of them as he could, had them spayed or neutered, and returned them to the wild. When he trapped kittens who were young enough to be domesticated, he found them new homes rather than returning them to the streets.
Chris and his wife did end up adopting more cats from the colony as well. There was another big orange boy named Widget and his sister, Clea, a black kitty. Then their calico cousin Isis tagged along. Blue the tuxedo cat was adopted as an adult, which is very rare for feral cats, but he was in a sticky situation and needed a home.
“I had trapped him and fixed him about three years before,” says Chris.
“There came a time where he couldn’t stay where he was anymore. He’d been out in the wild since he was a kitten. I fed him every day, and I didn’t know what to do; he couldn’t stay there. So I sort of asked him – because I knew enough to know that you can’t bring a four-year-old feral cat home – I kind of asked him, and he said, ‘No, no, I wanna go home with you.’ And so he came home with me.”
The family, now living in Austin, Texas, has had seven cats ever since. Occasionally they introduce a potential eighth member, but he or she is always voted out of the club.
“They always vote unanimously against admitting anybody else to the clan,” laughs Chris. “We’ve made our appeal, and we were turned down.”
Because his current cats don’t much care for the idea of adopting or fostering more kitties, Chris has turned back to his trap/neuter/release plan and has begun teaching other people to do the same. He estimates that he’s trapped around 75 or 80 cats and also helped a couple hundred get adopted.
Chris’s favorite rescue stories are the ones that come full circle and have a wholesome ending. One cat named Jasmine, for example, he trapped from an open field near a hospital, and he intended to foster her, but his female cats rejected her. However, he was able to convince a contact he had in Toronto to move to Texas to adopt her, even though she hadn’t previously been a cat person. Chris claims it was a match made in heaven, and now he’s happy to still be able to babysit for Jasmine on occasion.
Another one of Chris’s favorite stories is about two cats he caught and had fixed and let go, expecting never to see or hear about them again. “A year or two later, I was at some store, and I was talking to a clerk about wild cats, and I showed him some pictures on my phone, and he said, ‘Those are my cats,'” Chris recalls. “Those two cats had migrated to his porch, and he was feeding them every day, and they lived in his yard now. That was so cool that I found where they ended up.”
Chris works hard to find homes for kittens he traps and gives as much advice as he can to others who are interested in helping control the feral cat population through spaying and neutering. There’s a lot to think about in cat rescue, like trying to give your veterinarian advance notice about your plans, the complexities of trapping a street-smart adult cat, the difficulty of lining up a foster family for kittens, etcetera.
“Smart trapping requires a lot of planning, and, oddly, my life as a lawyer and my life in politics led me to be a, uh, perhaps overenthusiastic planner of the sequence,” Chris says.
Cats are fickle though, and he admits that trapping is a difficult art to learn. You can’t control which, if any, cats go in the trap you set, and the harder you try, the less likely your plan is to work. Chris says many of the other animal rescuers he knows have gotten burnt out from trying so hard to save as many animals as they could and forgetting to rest.
Chris, who has been a life coach for the last 20 years (although still licensed as a lawyer), stresses the importance of taking breaks from difficult work like animal rescue in order to avoid becoming burnt out. For his own part, he says traumatic events from his past and his PTSD make it hard to deal with certain aspects of cat rescue, and he often avoids looking out the window when he’s driving in order to keep from seeing groups of feral cats he’ll be tempted to try to help.
“It’s like The Godfather,” Chris jokes. “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in. I’m trying not to crush myself. The most important advice to anybody that wants to be involved in this is just to take a break when you don’t need it. Conserve yourself. If you get wrecked, you won’t be able to help anybody.”
Chris also advises people to do their best but not to get too attached to the outcome of their efforts. For example, with sickly young kittens, they sometimes die even if they’re given the best possible care, and you can’t blame yourself for it.
Even with that detached mindset, however, Chris’s life does effectively revolve around his cats. He and his wife had to move into a bigger house to have more space for all the cats when they lived in San Marcos. Chris runs an Instagram account for his felines and has about 30,000 followers in 90-plus countries. He has made t-shirts, calendars, mouse pads, coffee mugs, coasters, and other cat-centric items for his followers. He works hard to capture the essence of each cat in his photos for Instagram, and he spends special quality time with each of his cats on a daily basis.
“I try to have something, a routine, that’s special for each one, that’s different,” he says. “They get to go a certain place, they get to sleep a certain place, they get to to play in a different way, they get a different kind of treat. They get to do different things so that they don’t feel jealous and and such.”
Chris is able to communicate with cats quite well (did you know lizards are delicious? Chris’s cats have told him so). His felines respond to a clap of his hands or a snap of his fingers and do exactly what he asks, although he says he often asks them to do only what he believes they already want to do.
And despite the all-consuming nature of animal rescue and the effort it takes to be a good cat parent, there are so many positive aspects to that life as well, including a perhaps unexpected sense of healing from past traumas. Chris says he finds the consistency of life with cats calming and soothing. He appreciates that he can be himself around the cats, and they can be themselves. We hope his story will inspire others not to be afraid of pouring themselves into this type of life as well, with the assurance that they’ll be getting so much in return.
As the Cat Man puts it, “I saved them, then they saved me.”
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