Photos courtesy of Phaedra Barratt
With gossamer green eyes, batty ears, and a goaty meow, Balam has scratched his way to Instafame with 222 thousand followers.
Balam is an Oriental Shorthair. “The breed is my spirit animal,” says owner Phaedra Barratt who works with Jaguares En La Selva to raise awareness about big cat conservation. She’s lived with Siamese and Orientals for 35 years. “My first Oriental's name was Chaing Mai. They’re not your average cat and require a lot of attention, much like a dog or a child.” Although she has two Orientals, she strongly advocates for adoption and has three rescued street cats.
“Sometimes, Balam is just less cat than his brothers and sister,” she says. He’s grumpy without his morning coffee, airs his naughty bits in front of the heater, and eats yogurt (a.k.a. white slime). “He’ll eat literally anything, except for fruit,” Barratt says.
“He is a mushpot. When he cuddles, he can’t get close enough to you. He’d be quite happy climbing inside your chest.” While he loves grooming his dad’s beard and being carried around like a baby, he’s extremely lazy and getting him to play isn’t easy.
“I like to run one of those wands all over the couch and get him to run in circles. That’s the only time he moves. It’s unreal,” she says, “I wish I could hire live mice to come into my house … that wouldn’t get killed.” The most athletic of her five cats, Balam can fly across the room when he wants to. “He goes from the floor to my head like it’s nothing,” she says.
“Balam is the best known of our pride.”
Here are the other members of the "fabulous five":
Chaska (which means star in Quechua, the language of the Incas) is Balam’s littermate. A head shorter than Balam, he likes his bed medium-firm and dog-sized but orders his eggs light and fluffy. When he’s not “on the pot” or spooning the rest of the crew, he sits on his mom’s lap before she’s had the chance to sit down.
“He’s a deep thinker and highly selective about whom he trusts. Once he decides that he loves and trusts you, he’s yours,” Barratt says. Chaska is a man of fewer words than his biological brother Balam. “But he also converses with me,” she says. “He has a way of speaking without opening his mouth. It’s as unique and beautiful as Balam’s way.”
Zoggo “Whiskers” Doggo was found at a local hot spring. “He was so friendly and starving, I couldn’t leave him,” Barratt says. Though Zog looks like a legit businessman in his black and white tuxedo, he’s actually a nip deal, veggie killer, mafia toe muncher, and money launder. “It’s happened more than once that I’ve walked into a room and he’s had cash hanging out of his mouth. He runs around the room with it,” she says.
Whether he’s teaching you how to flunk out of school or make a margarita, he’s the resident stand-up comedian. He also has the girliest meow in the business. “While Zog doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, he’s such a brute,” Barratt says. “If he sees something move, he’s on it like nobody’s business.” He likes chasing balls but is obsessed with insects. “Maybe, instead of hiring a mouse, I should buy crickets?” she says. “Cats are programmed to hunt. None of the toys do it because they’re not up to the level of live things.”
When Barratt's friend found Roo, he was skinny and covered in fleas. His collar was so small that it was digging into his neck. “We know he had a home at some point, but abandoning animals is very common in Mexico. Sadly, but we’ll never know what really happened,” she says.
Roo is Zog’s best friend. When he’s not Houdini-ing his way over 100-foot walls that none of the other cats could climb, he likes sitting in trees (ahem...potted plants), crawling up ladders, and giving women breast exams — with his teeth. “He’s the farter in the family. For such a pretty boy, he makes the biggest stink,” she says. “Of all the cats, he’s also the most likely to roll you a joint before he starts gardening because he likes his buddies relaxed and happy.”
Barratt found Oona (pronounced like Luna) crying and shaking outside of her husband's studio. “It was freezing and she was very close to a dangerous road, so we had no choice but to bring her home,” she says. “She was super sweet and friendly, and the vet estimated that she was five months of age.”
Oona is Zog’s girlfriend. She occasionally works as a paper towel shredder and box tester. While she’s the smallest of all the cats, she’s the toughest. “She’s also the most dramatic out of all of them. When they’re fighting, even if I can tell she’s not being hurt, she makes the most incredible noises,” Barratt says. “Everyone is afraid of her. Maybe, it’s because she rides her motorcycle like a bish and cuts like a ninja? I’m not even joking. This sweet face? Don’t be fooled.”
Every time Barratt goes to the store, she ends up coming home with toys and they’re used for five minutes. Exercising a bunch of motherfluffers and bumfluffs isn’t easy. “We have quite a big space, and they chase each other when they play,” she says. “They’re such good friends and the best enrichment for each other.”