What it’s like attending Sea-Meow, the ‘Purrcific Northwest’ cat convention

SEATTLE — The most unexpected guest at the Sea-Meow convention this year wasn’t the influencer in a velour bathrobe, or the musicians in full-head cat masks playing a rather mournful rendition of “Come On Eileen” on violin and accordion, or the smiling dance troupe who performed a lively number with Fosse-esque hands splayed like paws; rather, it was a dog. A very small dog, with soft ears and an alert expression, riding in someone’s tote bag and looking like maybe it wished it were a cat, as perhaps many of us at Sea-Meow did.

Taking place this month at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, Sea-Meow is billed as “The Biggest Cat Convention in the Purrcific Northwest” on its cat-pun-filled website. (Sign up for the meowsletter!) It is, in other words, a vast gathering of cat people, for the purposes of cooing over cat merch and sighing over shelter kittens and smiling at the sight of a little kid wearing cat ears. While attending felt a bit like going to a strictly cat-themed shopping mall, it’s for a good cause: 20% of proceeds go to a handful of local nonprofits engaged in cat rescue and welfare. I didn’t hear back from organizers regarding this year’s attendance numbers, but the Exhibition Hall was thick with people, particularly Saturday (excuse me, Caturday).

Let me establish my credentials right here: I am, unquestionably, a cat person. Just this morning, before I started writing this story, I cleaned up a hairball and retrieved my quick-darting orange tabby from the sweater shelf on which it is her life’s goal to set up permanent residency. I spend inordinate amounts of time greeting the cat in cute voices (she has many adorable nicknames, none of which I will share), or removing peach-colored hair from my nicest dark clothing, or stepping on the endless array of skitter mice punctuating my floors. And I take credit for converting the other human in my house, who thought he was a dog person and has since (mostly) been convinced otherwise.

So Sea-Meow, which I keep wanting to call Cat-Con as it’s more fun, was my people, even though I’ve never worn a tail or an “Introverted but willing to discuss cats” T-shirt, both of which could be spotted in the exhibition hall aisles. And while there were a few people at the convention in full Jellicle Ball drag, most just looked like a regular cross-section of humanity, maybe with slightly more cat-themed accessories than average. Cats were welcome at Sea-Meow (assuming they were appropriately harnessed/leashed or carrier’d, and well-behaved), but I only saw a handful; each of them a feline exercise in chill, even the pair wearing matching pale-blue turtlenecks. (No, I did not attempt to bring my cat, as I couldn’t imagine that particular story ending well.)

That answered the first question I’d wondered about Sea-Meow: Would there be any actual cats there? Other than those few feline visitors, the only real cat energy came from an enchanting handful of sweetly mewling kittens brought by shelter organizations. (For a $5 donation to Seattle Humane, you could spend five minutes playing with them in an enclosure. Reader, I have never whipped out $5 so quickly.) Though I was intrigued by the announcement of a Cat Calling Contest — has any cat ever come when called? — said contest turned out to be a couple of dozen people demonstrating their calling skills, without any feline participation. The contest featured some remarkable meow imitations, at least one original song and a spirited mother-and-child duo whose call featured the phrase “Get over here you old beast cat!” The grand prize winner was an adorable 4-year-old in cat makeup, whose simple rendition of, “Come here kitty” brought down the house. Whether it would have brought in a cat remains an open question.

While I have no interest in contributing to the great philosophical divide by comparing dog people to cat people (let’s just all love who we love!), attending Sea-Meow does make one ponder. While walking past booths that sold things like all-natural tofu cat litter and cat wine (basically liquid catnip, in adorable little bottles), I noted a fundamental difference: Dog people go places with their pets; cat people (most of them, anyway) don’t, because our pets would rather stay home. If this had been Sea-Bark, which as far as I know is not a thing, every attendee would likely have an eager canine on a leash, tugging their owners along while looking enthusiastically agreeable in the way that dogs do and cats don’t. At Sea-Meow, most of us were unencumbered by our pets, but had voluntarily sought out an event that was a tribute to them — to gather with fellow cat folk and enjoy “purrformances” like Moshow the Cat Rapper, who charmingly shouted out to “all my cat guys and cat ladies” and urged us to never give up on our dreams, and to not declaw our cats. (Based on audience participation during his show, we definitely would not.)

Though there’s an educational element to Sea-Meow — I learned about local cat rescue efforts, and watched a presentation in which a veterinary staffer showed a video of how she brushed the teeth of her cat (named Freddy Krueger, a fact that brought some unexpected suspense to the proceedings) — most of Sea-Meow is about selling things. Some of these were quite appealing; I lingered in front of a velvety-looking cat bed in the shape of a giant crown ($66; I did not buy it) and felt catnip toys in the shape of a sliced avocado and a lobster ($5 each; I did). I also paused at a display of Catnip Kickers, which I misread as Catnip Knickers and thus spent way too much time wondering exactly how you would put them on the cat, and what purpose they would serve. It’s a curious part of being a cat owner that you often find yourself wanting your cat’s approval — dog folk, I imagine, have less insecurity about this — and thus select presents as if the cat would appreciate the time you spend choosing the right thing. Why did I even think my cat would know the difference between an avocado and a lobster? Was I subconsciously just wanting a fancy sandwich? (Probably.)

Sea-Meow left me with many questions, the biggest of which is why two of the cat influencer dudes spent the weekend roaming the exhibition hall floor in robes and flip-flops, like they’d just emerged from the shower and got an urgent call to come on over and judge the Cat Calling Contest. (I suppose I could have asked them, but sometimes mysteries should remain mysteries.) But it also left me with a pleasant sense of having visited a happy place, full of kittens and whimsy and people unself-consciously meowing when they checked the microphones on the stage. Sea-Meow, as with all conventions, creates a community, where everyone has something in common. Even that little dog, I’m guessing, went home to a cat friend.