The Quest for the Catman

The peculiar allure of Key West fixture Dominique LeFort confounds even the most dyed-in-the-fur Catfans

I couldn't find the souvenir answer my editor expected, but I did buy a couple of post cards, and I sent them. It's an old-fashioned habit but maybe an apt one, even the awkward acknowledgment that the reader should be present but isn't: "Wish you were here."

After all, sometimes the place really does look like the photo -- sometimes even better. And what could be truer than a handwritten synopsis of a day spent far away in a time that will never exist again? In the end, the stories we write, save, and mail to friends, no matter how brief or feeble or trite, are our best efforts at remembrance, souvenirs in the truest sense.

A cat trainer for 25 years, the Catman attributes his success to his ability to get inside the feline psyche
Michael Henzt
A cat trainer for 25 years, the Catman attributes his success to his ability to get inside the feline psyche

The night is extraordinarily humid. By the end of his two shows, Dominique LeFort's white shirt clings to him, drenched with sweat. Audience members linger long after even the other performers have packed up and left. The steel drums are silent, the mosquitoes are biting, and the wedding party has left for an indoor reception.

The only receiving line that remains is for Dominique. As usual a few cat-fancier fans have stuck around: fortyish women cooing lovingly at the cats while others buy post cards and T-shirts. Dominique thanks them all graciously. A boy about nine years of age idly plays with the locks on the cages, but the child's angry father interrupts him. "Nicholas," the man bellows, "we're going now!"

A married couple who look to be in their late forties hang back anxiously, waiting politely for their chance to talk to Dominique. Dan and Sylvia came to Key West from Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, and figure that over the years they have seen the show at least 15 times. Still, they are overjoyed to watch it again. "It's the best show you'll ever see," Dan tells me.

When the crowd finally subsides, the two shyly approach Dominique. He recognizes the couple instantly, greets them warmly, and apologizes for his appearance. "You see me perspiring because I sent them lots of vibes," he declares.

Cat owners themselves, Dan and Sylvia seem to understand completely. "It's very mental," Sylvia observes, beaming.

"It's like a vibe," Dan adds knowingly, "a vibe coming from your soul."

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