The picture of Kylo that started it all.
During the last seven years, I never had to struggle to come up with a “fun fact” about myself when one of those awkward getting-to-know-you exercises required one. After all, how many people could truthfully say they were the owner of an internet-famous cat?
If, right now, you were to open another tab and Google “Adam Driver cat,” you’d see my cat. You could then read about what everyone agrees is his uncanny resemblance to the actor Adam Driver in such reputable sources as Newsweek, Pinterest and Time magazine.
“Internet obsessed with cat that resembles ‘Star Wars’ actor,” read the headline to one CNN article in 2016, within which the writer suggested that the Adam Driver Cat was on track to displace Grumpy Cat as the “internet’s favorite cat.”
But by January of this year, my internet-famous cat was struggling with kidney failure. After several weeks administering daily subcutaneous fluids at home failed to restore him to an acceptable quality of life, I made the heartbreaking decision to end his suffering. That’s not a fun fact.
My path to internet-famous pet ownership began in January 2016, when the Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey tweeted a picture of a cat they called “Corey.” My friend Marci then tweeted the photo of Corey from her own account, adding the caption, “Tell me this cat at @TheMCSPCA doesn’t look like Adam Driver.”
— Marci Robin (@MarciRobin) January 16, 2016
It wasn’t long before “The Cat That Looks Like Adam Driver” had become a viral phenomenon, and requests from journalists were inundating her mentions. But before the whole world fell in love with the big-eared lookalike, I already had.
When I saw the picture shortly after Marci first tweeted it, I felt something deep in my soul. This cat and I are meant to be together, I thought.
We’d had family cats growing up, and as an adult, my former fiancé and I had rescued a kitten from the streets of Bushwick and proceeded to treat him as sort of a starter baby. Still, I’d never looked at a cat (or any animal) and been spoken to by an omniscient inner voice before.
I wouldn’t really have even considered myself a “cat person.” But it was crystal clear I was this cat’s person.
Unfortunately, there were a few obstacles between us. Like the fact that I lived in Brooklyn and he was over an hour’s drive away in New Jersey, that I did not own a car or have a driver’s license and that when I contacted the shelter they told me he had already been adopted.
In a win for the omniscient inner voice, however, they emailed me again the following day to let me know the adoption had fallen through and my feline soulmate was once again available. All I had to do was get to New Jersey before some person who probably wasn’t even acting on the command of a deep soul voice beat me to adopting him. Given that a split-screen of Corey next to Adam Driver was rapidly becoming the internet’s new favorite meme, time was of the essence.
So I did what anyone would have done in 2016 and posted a slightly unhinged status on Facebook begging anyone I knew who had a car to drive me to New Jersey. I also offered to rent a car for someone else to drive. Fortunately, my friend Cassie answered the call and we white-knuckled our way to the Monmouth County SPCA.
Meeting Kylo for the first time.
When we arrived, another woman was already looking at Corey, and I was forced to take her out with physical violence. Kidding! She kindly deferred to me because she would have needed time to see if the cat was going to trigger her allergies, and she eventually ended up adopting two of Corey’s family members.
So as the gears of the internet were pinging and whirring and driving “Adam Driver Cat” to greater and greater virality, my against-all-odds story got its happy ending as I officially adopted him. I decided to name him Kylo Ren after one of his actor doppelganger’s best-known characters.
The Monmouth County SPCA sharing the news on Twitter.
I didn’t know at the time that Kylo was not your typical shelter cat. For one thing, he was a kind of purebred cat known as an Oriental Longhair. (It turns out they all kind of look like Adam Driver.) He was also a former show cat, before being surrendered to the shelter by a breeder who was experiencing mental health issues. I also had no idea that the cat I was paying a meager shelter fee to adopt would have cost thousands of dollars in any other situation. None of that would have really mattered, though: I just fell in love with his weird little face.
I now know that Oriental Longhairs (and Shorthairs) are almost dog-like in behavior: They will follow you from room to room around the house, they love to cuddle and some even play fetch. (Kylo exclusively liked to fetch plastic medicine cups, which I would forever be finding in every corner of the house and under the furniture.)
OLH cats are also known to be loyal and extremely loving, and they become deeply attached to their chosen people. One description I read said, “This breed doesn’t just want attention ― they need it desperately if they are to live happy, healthy lives.” (Which, honestly, sames.)
Rather than just being a lap cat, Kylo was more likely to perch on my shoulder, or plop down directly on my face. He preferred positions that made it impossible to do anything but pay attention to to him, and would regularly headbutt my phone when he wanted my undivided attention.
Kylo wasn't truly happy if he wasn't smooshed against my face.
In bed at night, Kylo would wedge himself in between my then-boyfriend and me. It didn’t matter how tightly we were pressed against one another ― he’d find a tiny crack and force his way in.
My son was just 4 years old when we adopted Kylo, and was accordingly loud and fast-moving and the opposite of gentle. But Kylo never snapped or scratched or swiped at him even once. He was endlessly tolerant, letting himself essentially be handled like a living teddy bear.
Kylo’s adoption set off a second wave of internet attention, and my boyfriend created an Instagram account for him with the handle @catam_driver. My cat’s follower count quickly surpassed my own. I did some interviews with national news outlets, mostly to promote donations to the financially struggling Monmouth County shelter, which got an unexpected and much-needed boost from their brush with internet fame.
While I liked sharing pictures and stories about Kylo online with people who felt connected to him, I had no real desire to try to monetize my famous pet, nor was it even clear how I would go about doing so.
But I did accept a lot of freebies! Petsmart sent over their product line of Star Wars pet accessories, so Kylo ate from a Darth Vader food dish and cuddled with mouse toy versions of Yoda and Chewbacca. A pet photographer volunteered to take some stunning images of him, one of which ended up on a greeting card. People sent me fan art in which my cat wielded a lightsaber while dressed as Kylo Ren. Stephen Colbert showed a laughing Adam Driver a picture of our cat on “The Late Show.”
Sadly, Adam and Kylo never met.
The relationship I’d been in when we first adopted Kylo ended, and the other boyfriends I had over the years sometimes struggled to adjust to my needy, high-maintenance and extremely vocal cat. I’m 99% sure Kylo believed me to be his human wife, and every guy who came into my life over the seven years he was with us had to learn to respect our relationship.
I used to joke that he was always staring at me; in countless pictures I have of him, he is looking up at me from my lap with a squinty, half-stoned expression of total adoration and devotion. If more of the boyfriends had looked at me like that, maybe things would have worked out. In some ways, Kylo was kind of the best boyfriend I ever had.
Kylo preferred to be smooshed against my face.
When it became clear that the end of our time with Kylo was approaching, people who had been through it suggested I talk to him before he went. So in the veterinary exam room, I hugged him tightly and murmured that I loved him so much, and that he had been the best cat ever. I told him that it was OK to go, that I knew he was in pain. But the thing I kept repeating over and over was: “Thank you for taking such good care of Kiddo.“
Every single night, when it was time for my son to begin his bedtime routine, Kylo would trot into his room while he was brushing his teeth and wait in his bed to cuddle with us during family book time. The day after Kylo’s death, Kiddo climbed into bed alone and asked me,“Who am I going to sleep with now?” This was only slightly less heartbreaking than hearing him sporadically repeat, “But he was my best friend” to his empty bedroom.
Honesty, he dealt with the grief better than I did. Kylo’s death sort of broke my brain ― for a week afterward, I suffered memory loss and confusion and had trouble focusing or managing basic tasks.
One night at a taco shop, I found myself completely unable to remember how to work a debit card machine. I found out these symptoms are a fairly common grief reaction, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sheepish that I was thoroughly losing my mind in response to the death of what some would say was “just” a cat.
After further research, I found it’s not uncommon for people to feel more intensely affected by the death of a pet than even a human death. Something about the uncondtional love we receive from our pets makes it exponentially heartbreaking when we have to say goodbye.
As a single mom to an only child, it’s easy to feel somehow incomplete, as if the two of us just aren’t enough people to make a family. But with Kylo we were three, and three was substantial. Three felt like something. Whenever I posted a picture of the three of us on social media, I’d caption it: “Family portrait.”
I could never have known when I saw a funny cat picture embedded in a viral tweet that the relationships my son and I would form with our internet-famous cat would run so deep and impact our lives so significantly.
It was nice that the world saw something special in Kylo, and that he was loved by so many people. But it wasn’t Kylo’s fame that made him so special. I feel blessed that after his 15 minutes of fame were over, we got to spend seven more years together finding out just how special he truly was.