Cats of Disney: The Kingdom’s Kitty Keepers
Cats have been a staple of the Disney theme park experience since 1955, shortly after Disneyland opened. In this post, we’ll share a brief history of cats in Walt Disney World and the California parks, plus an exclusive look of what the kitties of the kingdom are up to when the parks are closed.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that the Walt Disney Company does not publicly tout the presence of feral cats in the theme parks for a variety of reasons, including not wanting to draw undue guest attention to these invisible employees. There’s also the clear conflict of interest posed by the Mouse House opening its gates to cats, the sworn enemy of Mickey and Co.
Fortunately, some award-worthy journalism has been done over the years to track these cunning kittens. This includes hard-hitting pieces in the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and of course, the Cats of Disneyland website. The information in the article that follows is based on those pieces, plus my firsthand experiences with cats in the Disney parks…
Legend has it that the cats first appeared inside Sleeping Beauty Castle on a dark and stormy night. Imagineers were working on the space that would be transformed to tell the epic tale of Princess Aurora via spellbinding dioramas. Feral cats attracted to Disneyland by a feast of guest garbage had turned the space into the original castle suite…for cats.
Disney reportedly addressed the issue by adopting those cats to Cast Members who gave them good homes, and Imagineers moved forward with the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough. The core cause, however, remained unaddressed: Disneyland offered a safe environment with an embarrassment of riches for cats: a food supply and comfortable habitats.
In fairytale fashion (or something like that), Disneyland also attracted a large mouse population. Overlooking the obvious synergy benefits of staging a live action remake of the Mickey Mouse cartoons inside Disneyland, the company instead chose to “address” the mice with cats.
Thus was began a big, beautiful symbiotic relationship between Disneyland and feral cats. The kitties could emerge at night when the coast was clear and humans (who they naturally feared) were out of sight, and do their jobs. The cats were doing admirable work of helping to control Disneyland’s pest population and weren’t bothering anyone, so the dynamic made perfect sense.
That’s pretty much where things have stood since with regard to the relationship between feral cats and Disney. In the past, Disneyland has used no-kill animal rescue organizations to help run a trap-neuter-return program. This means that the cats would be sterilized and monitored, but not euthanized or evicted from the parks.
More recently, Disneyland’s Circle D Ranch (the same Cast Members who care for the park’s other “working” animals) have taken over management of the feline population, along with local veterinary clinics. These Cast Members carry out the same tasks that were previously outsourced, spaying and neutering adult cats, finding homes for all kittens born in the resort, providing medical treatment as necessary, and refilling permanent feeding stations installed throughout Disneyland Resort.
All of this makes the pejorative “feral” or “stray” terms something of misnomers: these are Cat Cast Members. They live and work in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and regularly interact with their human co-workers. While some Cat Cast are hidden and primary work behind the scenes, other Cat Cast are well-known among guests. Just like Mousekeepers and Joe Rohde–all are doing admirable and essential work for the guest experience.
Regardless of their fame and friendliness, you should not attempt to touch any of the cats and you definitely should not feed them. (This applies to literally all animals in any of the parks–never feed or touch them!) The cats are better off remaining solitary–if cats start getting too comfortable around humans or begging for food, Disneyland will adopt them out to Cast Members.
Francisco: one of Disney California Adventure’s best E-Ticket attractions. pic.twitter.com/26E7cEcrka
– Tom Bricker (@Tom_Bricker) June 3, 2019
The kitty population at Disneyland Resort is currently around 200 Cat Cast Members. Popular cat-spotting locations are near the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Disneyland, GCH Craftsman Grill at the Grand Californian, Trader Sam’s at Disneyland Hotel, and of course, across from Smokejumpers Grill near the Grizzly River Run observation area in Disney California Adventure.
This area in Grizzly Peak is home to Disneyland Resort’s most famous cats: Francisco and Snickers. They are essentially the Catfathers of DCA, wielding power behind the scenes and getting stuff done. You’re most likely to see them in the morning hours or at dusk in this area. At other times, they’re occasionally visible perched high up on the manmade rock-work, sunbathing and/or napping.
This is all very Disneyland-centric, so how does it apply to Walt Disney World or the other parks? As noted above, Disney does not direct public attention towards the cats as a matter of policy. However, it’s all quite similar in Florida from what we can surmise.
We’ve spent a lot of time in the parks after closing in the last decade-plus, and have seen a lot of cats during that time. We’ve seen cats more times than I can count in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We’ve also seen cats numerous times in both Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland.
Cats are savvy and opportunistic–the same conditions that have made Disneyland an ideal habitat exist in literally all of Disney’s other parks (except maybe Animal Kingdom?). Given that cats will naturally gravitate to the theme parks and we’ve spotted them countless times, it stands to reason that Walt Disney World and the international parks would have similar policies towards them.
Yet, Disneyland remains the only place where we regularly see cats–and the same ones–during the daytime hours. (There used to be a cat who lived along the walkway between Contemporary Resort and Magic Kingdom, but nothing aside from that.) This could be because of differences in how Disneyland feeds the cats, or it could just be a cultural thing: California cats are just as chill and laid back as Californians.
Breakfast arrived and suddenly we made some new friends. (We did not feed them–and never feed animals in the parks.) pic.twitter.com/8MeYCv82t6
– Tom Bricker (@Tom_Bricker) January 20, 2020
There are a range of controversies regarding feral cats, and I mention these because I know if I don’t proactively address them, someone will in the comments. I’ll be honest: I don’t care about the potential for public health issues or impact to bird populations. Cats are awesome and I love them. (Wow, so bold and brave!) If they want to terrorize birds or bite some idiot who touches them, that’s their prerogative.
Speaking of which, you’re probably wondering what the kitty keepers of the Kingdom are up to now when the parks are closed and they have full run of the place? Good news–we have exclusive Cats photos from inside the parks. Stop the presses, this BREAKING story is huge!
Tonight is a magical night, where the most deserving cats will be reborn into another life, so they can be who they’ve always dreamed of being.
With Magic Kingdom empty, Cinderella Castle has transformed into a veritable catwalk for chic kitties.
After dancing and prancing the night away, it’s time for an 18-hour catnap.
Since there are no cardboard boxes to curl up inside, this beachfront hammock will have to suffice.
Looking for a Fancy Feast?
Victoria & Albert’s is fully available, and Old Deuteronomy is looking debonair in the Queen Victoria room.
Disney Tourist Blog’s Eye in the Skys reveals rare footage of this cat who has climbed Spaceship Earth.
Be cautious kitty, the firemen are furloughed–but maybe Figment will find you. Just believe…err, imagine!
I’M THE QUEEN OF THIS FLYING ELEPHANT WORLD!
Elephant are afraid of mice, and mice are afraid of cats, therefore by extension, Dumbo is terrified of Cats. #ReleaseTheButtholeCut
Be Our Guest being out of ADRs is a tail as old as time. Not tonight!
Just be careful–there’s a Beast in there!
From Walt Disney World, we head out west to Disneyland, where it’s inexplicably Christmas. That doesn’t make any sense at all, but then again, none of this does!
An empty Main Street gives the cats of Disneyland the opportunity to strike a purrfect pose for the ‘Gram. Paw-some shot!
Their boarding pass for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is being called right meow.
These felines will fight the First Order by barreling down the hallways of the Star Destroyer and wreaking havoc on the ITS, before balling up and falling asleep on the First Order Fleet Transport.
Oh no, look what the cat dragged into DCA: humans!
Also…maybe somebody had a bit too much catnip before breaking them out of the Tivan Collection.
RUN, IT’S CATZILLA.
The cats of Tokyo Disney Resort are somehow 60 feet tall and embracing Japan’s time-honored kaiju tradition.
This drum-off is a true cat and mouse game.
Much like this post, I don’t see it ending well.
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Do you think this post is paw-some or a cat-astrophe? Did this hiss-tory of the cats of Disneyland impress you, or is it un-fur-tunate that Disney allows feral cats in the parks? Are these exclusive photos claw-ful or hiss-terical? Or are you just sitting there cat-fused, wondering if what just happened is fur real? (Honestly, same. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but “boredom broke the Brickers.“) Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!
So you decided to address controversies by being a jerk about it. Gotcha. You clearly have no understanding of the impacts of free-roaming cats on birds (and small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians) and it sounds like you don’t have a willingness to understand.
Thanks for a great and fun post! No country bears, but I’ll let that slide in exchange for feline Judi Dench. : )
I so pleased that you are allowing and tending to the feral cats of Disney. I sounds like a unique and beneficial arrangement. Thank you for helping provide a place for them in a safe in environment!!!
Hi Tom. My name is Cynthia.
Thank you for the informative and fun article!!
I live in Dr. Phillips, (Orlando) in the area around Disney Springs, International Drive and Universal Studios. Many of us in this tourist area are putting together a formal group to TNR cats and get kittens adopted out. We have been doing this months out of our own pocket because the pandemic shut down the shelters and county TNR programs and there are literally countess kittens out there now. Next year all these kittens will give birth and it will be much, much worse.
I was hoping you had more definitive info on Disney World Orlando’s stand on feral cats you could still share.
You said…”However, it’s all quite similar in Florida from what we can surmise” and
“it stands to reason that Walt Disney World and the international parks would have similar policies towards them” and
“Yet, Disneyland remains the only place where we regularly see cats—and the same ones—during the daytime hours”.
It appears that even after your research, it is still a guess as to whether Disney World Orlando takes care of ALL the cats in all 4 Orlando theme parks plus Springs, which would be on a MUCH more massive scale than Disneyland, and that is what worries us. We find A LOT more feral kitten litters near the theme parks, most of which certainly comes from them.
It does stand to reason that feral cats at the parks would help take care of any mouse or rat problems but it could get out of control without TNR. We are concerned that kittens and cats are euthanized if the cat population gets too high, which would be easy to do.
I cannot find much info on Disney Orlando cats. If you have any other information you could give us, we would appreciate it!! Also, if you need some people to let you know about new restaurants i the theme park areas of Orlando, let me know. MANY of us go out to new ones and can give you deets on them!