UCLA’s ‘informal mascot’ Powell Cat has died. Some are calling for a memorial statue
A legend has left us.
A memorial service is planned. Shirts are being sold. People far and wide are posting tributes online and thousands are responding and liking the posts.
Few achieve this kind of celebrity in life and adulation in death. But UCLA’s beloved stray — Powell Cat — did.
The cat, who used they/them pronouns, according to the official Powell Cat Instagram page, died at age 10 Thursday, ascending to kitty heaven, leaving behind earthly fans and friends grieving the loss of a campus mainstay. The cat lived at the university for years, with the earliest known photos dating back to 2015.
“Rest in pawer, Powell Cat,” tweeted the official UCLA page.
Powell Cat was such a feature of campus life at UCLA that the school sold shirts featuring the black-and-white stray, and campus tour guides mentioned the furry feline when leading prospective students around the college.
“People have called Powell Cat the informal mascot of UCLA,” said Kathy Brown, assistant to the University Librarian at UCLA Library and primary staff caretaker of Powell Cat since 2020. Brown, who works in the Charles E. Young Research Library, came to campus every day during the pandemic and took on the responsibility of feeding Powell Cat and making sure the friendly cat was safe and taken care of.
The cat first lived by their namesake Powell Library. About two years later, Powell Cat ventured off to the brick steps of Glorya Kaufman Hall, where they could be found soaking up the sun or sprawled out playing with toys or catnip brought to them by friends and admirers. Powell Cat was known for being incredibly friendly to humans, cuddling up with hundreds of different students.
One student told Brown after the cat’s death that he heard about Powell Cat when applying to UCLA. The first thing he did when he got to campus was go to visit Powell Cat. The stray was there, waiting for him at Kaufman Hall.
“Some of my fondest memories, and this is shared by a lot of students, is [Powell Cat] would crawl into your lap and get comfortable and you had to be somewhere but you couldn’t leave because Powell Cat. Powell Cat made [students] late to a lot of 8 a.m. classes,” Brown said.
The last time Brown saw Powell Cat, one week ago, her legs fell asleep because Powell Cat lay on them for so long.
On top of taking care of Powell Cat, Brown was also responsible for the cat’s meme-ified Instagram page, where 15,600 fans who follow @powellcatofficial could expect updates and photos of the cat — whose account is understandably listed as a “public figure.”
“If you see the cat, you post it on your Insta story,” said Navkaram Gurm, who went to UCLA until 2021. “It’s the UCLA tradition. There’s a lot of tradition attached to sharing the cat.”
Though the cat was already a popular figure at UCLA, the pandemic and social media hype certainly contributed to their widespread fame, Brown said.
“There’s no competing with a cat on the internet. From the very beginning. Cats and the internet go paw in hand,” said Brown.
The cat’s death led some students to call on the school to establish a physical memorial — perhaps with a statue that would immortalize the cat.
“Everyone really wants a Powell Cat statue,” said Phoebe Chiu, a fourth-year student at UCLA who is the facilities commissioner of the undergrad Student Assn. Council at the college.
Chiu remembered hearing about Powell Cat from her first day on campus.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thought of UCLA without Powell Cat,” she said.
She’s seen the cat dozens of times and pet the stray a few times as well.
The building of a statue on campus — or perhaps a painting or mural — has to go through the byzantine bureaucracy of the college, starting with public comments Tuesday night from students to assess how the student body wants to memorialize the cat. An official memorial is planned for Thursday evening.
For Brown, the death has been particularly sad — but the deluge of loving messages is a comfort.
“It’s just such an outpouring of grief and of love,” Brown said.
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