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Lindork’s Lists #5 – Q&A with James Eastham and Great Grams of Gary
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on May 30, 2021
The fifth person I’m profiling in my new paid newsletter subscriber Q&A series is:
James Eastham, Social Media Meownager and Pawrent to Adventure Cat Great Grams of Gary
Getting to know James and Gary:
Great Grams of Gary is a six-year-old domestic longhair Alberta Adventure Cat who has very likely been on more adventures than you (lol). Gary splits his time between Canmore and Edmonton, Alberta. His pawrent (and Social Media Meownager) James has had a whirlwind few years with the exploding popularity of his cat.
James hikes, skis, paddles with Gary—and shares photos and videos of those adventures on the Internet, amassing nearly half a million followers on Instagram.
I actually used to work with James and he and his partner (who chooses to be behind-the-scenes when it comes to Gary and the Internet) are one of my dearest friends. It’s been so much fun watching Gary’s community grow and it’s been great to see how James uses Gary’s account to not only showcase Alberta (in fact, Gary just received a provincial Tourism Award for his efforts highlighting our province’s beauty to the world), but also educate others on how to safely explore and adventure.
“I think it’s important to use Gary’s profile to let people know how to visit natural spaces responsibly and why it’s important so we can preserve them for generations to come.”
– James Eastham, Gary’s Social Media Meownager
James loves going on leashed walks with Gary, and giving him great, outdoor enrichment while being a responsible cat owner (free roaming cats are bad for the environment, are a risk to traffic, other cats, and can attract predators).
Ultimately, James is just happy he can bring his furry companion with him on great adventures. Read on to learn all about Great Grams of Gary!
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with James and Gary:
When did Gary start going on adventures? How did it begin and why did you start an Instagram account for Gary?
We started adventuring because Gary kept trying to escape my apartment. We decided if he wanted to out he would have to learn to do it on leash and we worked slowly up from there. When we were first taking him outside we had just moved and I was unemployed and searching for jobs. I would take a break from filling out job applications and sit on the front step with Gary as he got used to walking on his harness. I started posting to Instagram at this time too—there’s only so many cat photos you can send to your friends before it becomes annoying!
How has the overall reaction been for people / the community at large responding to Gary as this adventure cat?
Generally people really love it—a cute cat, doing cool things in beautiful places is a winning combo!
Can you share a few big milestones or moments in Gary’s celebrity cat journey? Special shout-outs? Cool coverage? Moments when you saw huge increases in followers?
Gary’s first big shoutout (and when he first got a bunch of followers in a day) was from the tech Youtuber MKBHD on Twitter. Marques and his team have been fans from the start and it’s been cool to see Gary occasionally make cameo appearances in his videos – for example Marques wore Gary’s Meowtain Rescue shirt during his 10 million subscriber thank you video.
My parents often send me Globe and Mail articles when they think there’s advice in them I need to take. It was great then this Christmas when the Globe and Mail wrote a feature length article about us and our adventures.
His biggest increase in followers came from a random Facebook post by a relatively modest-sized page that went very viral, twice. I think he gained almost 100,000 from that one post alone.
Can you also share some of Gary’s favourite or most interesting adventures he’s gone on? And what made those so memorable?
Probably the coolest so far is cat cat-skiing. I had made a cat skiing joke on our page after the first time I skied with Gary, and a local cat-skiing operator asked if we wanted to come out for the day. Gary got to ride in a snow cat and we did some easy powder skiing. It was super cool!
Everything the light touches is Gary’s!
Gary (and you!) often get recognized on your adventures now, what’s that like, what do people normally say? Describe a typical interaction (they ask to take a photo with him?)
Lots of folks want to get a photo or will ask to pet Gary. This year when we’ve been skiing I get lots of people shouting from the chairlift asking if I’m out with Gary.
Something you do with Gary’s account is also educate on responsible adventuring and responsible and safe use of trails, hiking, mountaineering, etc. Can you talk about why that’s important for you to do?
Instagram is a great way for people to get inspired about places they want to visit, but often the places that go viral end up facing significant challenges from the influx of people looking for that perfect photo.
I think it’s important to use Gary’s profile to let people know how to visit natural spaces responsibly and why it’s important so we can preserve them for generations to come.
Mountain parks are some of the last really wild spaces that exist and I think people don’t often appreciate that. It is shockingly common for people who visit the Banff area to believe that all the wildlife are taken care of like livestock (many, many people have asked what time they’re released in the morning so they can get photos) and don’t appreciate they can be dangerous.
The animals here are wild and can hurt you if they feel threatened – even, maybe especially—the elk.
Gary has likely been on more adventures than you, lol.
What are some challenges you face when it comes to adventuring with a cat?
You have to be pretty vigilant for off leash dogs – even though it’s the law to keep them on leash pretty much everywhere we go people are terrible about following that law. They will often run up to us. Thankfully we haven’t had any overly negative experiences yet but it is something I worry about.
What’s something people may not expect or realize about Gary (and/or about adventuring with animals)?
I don’t think everyone knows that Gary is disabled – he is missing his left hip. When he was taken to the shelter it was broken and they performed a femoral head osteoectomy which removes the head of the femur. The hip joint fills in with scar tissue and the leg can still be used. The only really noticeable impact on him is that Gary can’t jump as high as other cats.
What advice would you give other cat or pet owners who want to adventure with their animals? What about advice for becoming a celebrity cat?
My biggest advice for people wanting to adventure with their own cat is to go slowly and let their cat warm up to new experiences at their own pace. We started with sitting together on the front porch and worked up from there as Gary got more comfortable.
Whenever we introduce a new activity to Gary – be it skiing, paddling, etc. we’ve always done it in a low-commitment way so we can pack up and leave if Gary doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself .
When it comes to becoming a celebrity cat I think a lot of that is luck. Gary’s had some posts get picked up and go viral which has really helped. If you are running a social media account for your pet the best way to see consistent growth is to post good, original content regularly.
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix (or other streaming services) and why?
I’ve been watching the new season of Drive to Survive. It’s a pretty good (if somewhat overly dramatized) look at Formula 1.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
One of my favourite adventure stories is the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing, which documents Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage and to Antarctica and its rescue.
What is one of your favourite restaurants or stores you’d recommend in the Canmore / Kananaskis area?
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
If people are visiting Canmore, a great spot to check out is the Three Sister’s Viewpoint. It feels so secluded and quiet but you’re right in the middle of town. It’s my favourite spot in Canmore.
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