Jeremy Smith—aka BeltLine Cat Guy—explains life with a feline sitting shotgun

"It makes me feel like I have some influence in my life with other people to make them feel happy and maybe even feel a little bit of peace, rather than just negativity."

Beltline Cat Guy Atlanta
Jeremy and Whisker

photograph by Diwang Valdez

Her name is Whisker. No “s.” About a year ago, I met somebody in Piedmont Park near the entrance at 12th Street, where I was waiting on friends so we could ride bikes. I saw somebody with this cat crawling around on their shoulder. I’d never known a cat to do that before so I went up to the person. I’ve been deaf since birth, so when I communicate with someone who doesn’t know ASL, I type out my words. He appeared to be homeless or on hard times. He said the cat was a stray, and that he had been taking care of it.

Later, the guy saw me in the park, grabbed me on the shoulder, and showed me a text that said, I’ll sell the cat to you for $100. I went to Wells Fargo, got the money out of the ATM, and brought her home. He was happy, and I was happy. She was so cute, so teeny at the time. She might have been three months old.

For several months, she would chase a light I shined around my Buckhead apartment. Then, I thought, Let me give the cat some style, so I got her the bandanna. Wait a minute. Why don’t I try getting on my bike with Whisker on my shoulder? I put the cat on my shoulder and went out riding on the street. Whisker was scared at first. My goal was to train her to sit on my shoulder; it took about two weeks.

It’s been a year, and now, she just stays on my shoulder. No more moving up and down. She’s totally used to it. Can you imagine? This is crazy. Then, I got an idea from my girlfriend, who’s also deaf. She rollerblades on the BeltLine with cat ears on her helmet. So, I got some cat ears from Amazon. Now, we go on the BeltLine any chance we can.

I joined the marches and protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks because I knew that could happen to me. Why is this happening over and over? We’re sick of that shit happening over and over; it’s just so unfair. I’m just tired of this racism. We need to work together in this world. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, it doesn’t matter. We are all humans.

Beltline Cat Guy Atlanta

photograph by Diwang Valdez

No one has ever asked if I was hurting Whisker. They’re always like, Wow, I’ve never seen that. I don’t know if it is the breed of the cat or her individual personality. Now, we ride all over Atlanta, and people are trying to copy me! I don’t care what people think. I like to do something different for style. People love to see us too. They want to take a photo or video with me, and I do the claw hands. We’ve become a little famous locally.

The bike is made by Coco City. It’s a chopper. I wanted something that nobody else had, and I wanted electric. It’s got a battery motor, so it can go pretty fast, like 50 mph, and it’s comfortable with this handlebar. It kind of makes me look rad. I can’t hear the music I play from the speaker, but I can feel it. As long as it has a beat that I can feel and it’s loud, it doesn’t really matter who the artist is or the lyrics.

People see the cat and they see me on the bike, and they get happy. It makes me feel like I have some influence in my life with other people to make them feel happy and maybe even feel a little bit of peace, rather than just negativity. And if people want to take a picture with me or selfie with me then they’ll have a happy memory to say, Oh, I met the BeltLine Cat Guy. It makes me feel good that they think of something happy when they see me and Whisker, me and my tiny ears on my helmet. It gives me peace in my heart. It does. It makes me feel good.

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.