Franny Syufy has been writing for publication over 20 years, starting with senior citizen advocacy articles for local newpapers in the late ’80s, then real estate articles in the 90s. In December of 1996, she applied to a Internet startup company called The Mining Company, and her first article about cats was published in February, 1997. Franny just celebrated her 15th anniversary as the Cats Guide at About.com, formerly TMC.
Widowed, she lives in the California Gold Country with almost two acres of forest surrounding her home. Sharing her home is her adult son, Lance, and their four cats, Jaspurr, Joey, Billy, and Jenny.
Were you raised with cats? Or how did you get interested in cats? How old were you when you had your first kitty?
My family were all dog people and my first pet was a Boston Terrier my grandpa (Pappy) gave me when I was about three. We got our first cat, Bobby, when I was about 13. I don’t remember where he came from but my stepfather, Bud, who was a Texan and a real “dawg man” doted on that cat, because “he acts just like a dog.” I always chuckle when I see people write that. A cat is a cat, and that is that! Bobby was a dark gray tabby Manx mix, and he was a terrific cat. He was indoor-outdoor, as most cats were back then, and with his long back legs (typical with the Manx) he could jump from a standing start to the top of our apartment in a Government Housing Building. But Bobby was the exception, and I still wasn’t all that interested in cats. However, after Bobby disappeared about three years later, a pregnant cat had kittens in our garage (we had moved). The black & white photo was taken just before I met the love of my life.
I met my husband in high school. Although we had been in school together since our Freshman year, I really didn’t know much about him until I went to work at his father’s movie theatre. Asa helped his Dad out by
taking tickets at the door, watching the place while he went home for dinner, and helping to close up at night. I was working at the candy counter, and one night he looked over at me and said, “Hey, my father doesn’t pay you to stand around doing nothing.” One thing led to another and a few nights later, he offered to give me a ride home. Later, when we were going steady, I realized that the way to his heart was through cats, since he loved them so much (he had told me that he had been “raised by a cat,”)
After we were married, there was never a time that we didn’t have at least one cat.
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How many cats do you have now? What are their names? Ages?
We have 4: Jaspurr and Joey, littermates, turned 10 on February 20; Billy turned nine on March 5th, and Jenny, is about five now, and, not knowing her birthdate, we have a tradition for unknown birthdays of using July 4th, so she’ll be six then.
How did you land the gig at About.com?
I belonged to an email group of a bunch of women who had put together a crazy kind of website called the Batz Belfry, (I was Berry Batz), and one of them told us that a company called “The Mining Company” was hiring writers (to be called “Guides.) The only qualifications then were a knowledge of HTML and a “passion for the topic.” Asa and I looked at the long list of available, and Asa said, “Cats! You could write about cats.” That was in 1997, and eventually The Mining Company became About.com. In February, I celebrated my 15th year anniversary, and I hope for at least 5 more years of writing about cats.
Do you write for anything other than About.com Guide to Cats?
Just to clear up a common misnomer. My Website is “About.com Cats.” The “Guide” part is me. This goes back to the original Mining Company tagline “We mine the ‘Net so you don’t have to.” Back then, the Guides were just “link-collectors,” who wrote some content supplemented with a whole lot of eternal links. We’ve evolved over the years, and now spend the majority of our time writing new content, editing old content (a lot of it fixing or deleting those old links, which are now broken), and managing our forums and our reader-generated content.
I have published one family-children’s book, Lucy, the Loch Ness Llama, which is now also available in Kindle. I have plans for a compilation book of short stories about Cats, also as an E-book, which will hopefully include stories from other members of CWA. Also, a handful of full-length novels rolling around in my head, both about cats and other topics.
Do you have your own blog?
Yes, I’m attempting to become more active with it, as I enjoy writing on a variety of different things, and my own blog gives me that outlet. http://frannysyufy.com I also have my own personal Facebook Page in addition to my About.com Cats Facebook Page.
How do you come up with ideas for your About.com Guide to Cats column?
It’s not always easy, because I’ve already covered so many topics about cats in depth. On the other hand, because I receive so many emails from readers, there’s almost always something new in the wind. Plus, I have a few loyal readers who are always coming up with suggestions. And, of course, there is always plenty of good and bad news, such as pet food recalls, which require immediate and constant coverage.
Also, there’s the constant need to go back into older content to update, refresh, fix broken links, and to perhaps organize older content together in a way that makes sense and provides a better reader experience. If I can’t give readers what they need and want to know, they’ll quickly go elsewhere.
What is your biggest passion when it comes to cats?
It’s hard to quantify “biggest” when it comes to passion. I have two basic areas I’m very passionate about, both equally important to me:
- The Adoption of Less-Adoptable Shelter Cats. Older cats, and cats with chronic diseases, or other “disabled” cats, have a rough enough road in life, as it is. To be overlooked for the thousands of cute kittens dumped on shelters every year, just tolls the death knell for these cats. And the tragedy is that they all have so much love to give. I want to cry every time I read something from a reader about the kitten they were given by a friend, neighbor, or co-worker, because I know that that kitten potentially cost the life of another deserving older cat in a shelter.
- Responsible Cat Ownership. The kitten story above illustrates one part of this umbrella: Failure to spay and neuter pet cats. It’s highly likely that the kitten needed a home because someone found themselves with an unwanted litter of kittens and needed to “get rid of them” quickly. Other areas of responsibility include providing a nutritious diet, veterinary care (both routine and urgent), keeping cats safely indoors, and no declawing of cats.
What are some of the favorite things you have learned while working for About.com?
It’s hard to know where to start. The main thing I’ve learned is that cat people are the kindest, most likeable community in the world. There are no strangers when two or more cat lovers get together, whether by email, in blog comments, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or in person.
My Forum members are like a close-knit family, always willing to reach out to each other, including new members, with help and support. We laugh together, play together, also cry and pray together, when a favorite forum cat dies, and even more shocking a loved forum member. My eyes tear up whenever I remember those dear friends who have gone ahead. I don’t know what I’d have done without the help and support of my forum throughout my husband’s three-year battle with stage 4 melanoma, and his subsequent death when it metastasized to his brain. They were there for me always, and gave me the emotional strength I needed to stay on track with my work. I have three pillows on my loveseat, created and autographed by dozens of my forum members all over the world during that rough period of my life.
A number of the members have an annual gift-sharing project, where they draw names and exchange (usually handmade) cat-related gifts. Several of them have met in person many times over the years, with regular get-togethers. On a few occasions, they have volunteered to relay cats clear across the country, for the purpose of finding new homes.
The same camaraderie exists among the Guides at About.com. We are a very supportive group, and many of my fellow Guides feel like family to me. One of my fondest dreams is to one day travel across the country with stops in central places where I could personally meet both my coworkers and forum friends for lunch or even just a cup of coffee. This is truly the most rewarding career I’ve ever had, and I am enriched in immeasurable ways.