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Local cat can’t keep his paws off Westwood residents’ hearts

Graduate student Hayden Montgomery runs an Instagram for her cat Charlie. The cat spends its days wandering through Westwood neighborhoods and playing with pets in homes nearby. The account, @char.babe, serves as a place where neighbors who see Charlie throughout the day can send photos to Montgomery, she said. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)

By Tara Oldenburg

Jan. 7, 2020 11:36 pm

Hayden Montgomery said her cat’s day consists of more than just sleeping at home.

Instead, Charlie brings people together in the Westwood neighborhood he roams.

Recently, the cat has begun to wander throughout his community during the day, lounging on couches and playing with pets living in homes nearby, Montgomery said. The graduate student said she got Charlie when he was only six weeks old, and moved him to Los Angeles where she now cares for the cat with her husband and friend from high school. Now, at six years old, Charlie travels outside, enters homes and interacts with the community while his owners are away at work, Montgomery said.

“(We were) wary to trust strangers with our animal,” said Montgomery. “But we have seen a positive response that’s been really comforting to us when we don’t know exactly what he’s doing during the day.”

[Related: Students express artistry with original makeup looks on social media platforms]

Charlie was an indoor cat for the majority of his life, but Montgomery said she noticed his unhappiness while inside and allowed him to roam during the day. Montgomery said she was able to trust the strangers that allow Charlie to wander into their homes during the day because of the Instagram, @char.babe, which she runs on Charlie’s behalf. Started in 2015, the account serves as a place where neighbors who see Charlie throughout the day can send pictures of his adventures to Montgomery.

“We get pictures of people where he’s on their couch,” Montgomery said. “They say ‘Yeah, he’s been here for like three hours,’ but they say they love it.”

The owner had initially intended the Instagram to only include Charlie’s close family and friends. But as Montgomery saw the growing popularity of pet Instagrams, she said she began to advertise the Instagram as a safeguard for understanding where Charlie was. Charlie’s escapades have inspired the growth of a small community of people, Montgomery said.

Charlie’s visits have resulted in more than just human companionship, Montgomery said. Erica Griggs, a fourth-year English student, said she witnessed a developing relationship between her cat, named Kid Simon, and Charlie. Griggs said that she’s spotted the two cats together now that Charlie frequents her Westwood apartment, and it has facilitated conversation between the two owners.

“He comes by twice a day, sometimes not at all,” Griggs said. “I don’t know his agenda but they have become fast friends. I think Charlie tolerates Kid Simon and Kid Simon loves Charlie.”

Charlie’s travels have also provided a channel of communication for nonpet owners who are also becoming involved with the pet community. Raven Thomas, a Westwood resident, said she has never been a cat person, but Charlie’s friendly demeanor has changed her view toward them. Thomas said the cat’s travels have facilitated conversation with neighbors and led her to send messages to Charlie’s Instagram about his wanderings.

“He walked down my stairs and went to my neighbor’s apartment,” Thomas said. “I don’t really know who my neighbors are. I just moved here, but we both were laughing about the whole thing.”

[Related: Pets of UCLA get extra love on social media, create community for animal lovers]

While Charlie has provided companionship to his neighbors in recent weeks, Montgomery said that owning a pet in college is filled with challenges, especially in Charlie’s unique case. The cat has an expensive eye condition which requires frequent veterinary care; however, she said the emotional support a pet provides far outweighs any fiscal burden which may arise.

“It’s really nice to come home to (a pet) from a stressful day,” Montgomery said. “In undergrad I would be out for hours at a time, but it (was) nice to have a cat (there) to snuggle you and all that at home.”

Charlie’s impact on his community has led him to become an easily recognizable figure, who Montgomery said gets recognized in the neighborhood more than her. She said she feels encouraged by the community of Instagram followers and neighbors that support Charlie.

“It’s cool to see how he’s interacting with the neighborhood even more than we do with our neighbors, which is kind of a funny thing if you think about it,” Montgomery said. “It’s been the most rewarding to see how he’s lived his life away from his parents.”

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