Toronto’s subway cat has a story both adorable and sad

Toronto’s subway cat has a story both adorable and sad

(Image: Chris Bateman)

Leslie Noel is the kind of guy who stands out on the subway. Not because of what he wears or what he does, but because he’s invariably traveling with a fluffy ginger tabby cat called McLovin’.

The cat, named for the hapless, fake-ID-wielding Superbad character, is an underground Toronto legend and a big deal on social media. Regular subway riders know him as the “subway cat,” whose protective owner is always close.

McLovin’ attracts so much attention because, by feline standards, he’s almost preternaturally calm. Crowded spaces don’t seem to phase him. Mostly without incident, Noel takes him on transit, into stores (he rides in shopping carts) and even to Yonge-Dundas Square, where the cat’s tiny-sized sweaters, of which he has a wardrobe of 30, make him a magnet for spare change from passers-by. As we talked, on an overcast day at Yonge-Dundas, the cat sat patiently on his owner’s lap, eyeing pigeons. He (that is, McLovin’) was wearing a red-and-blue knit hoodie with a number seven on the back, accented with a velcro tie.

McLovin’ has fans, regulars who sometimes travel to see him, and even a website, with a video of his favourite song: “Happy” by Pharell Williams. When Noel busks for change, that’s what he plays on his cell phone.

People often ask why McLovin’ doesn’t run away. “It’s a bond,” Noel said. He used a leash at first, but it started to feel wrong. “No cat really likes to be tied down. He just stuck by me.”

Noel seems not to like speaking about his past. When asked, he said he was born in Brockville, Ontario, but moved around a lot as a child. His father sold assistive equipment for the blind and deaf and later worked for an aerospace company. There was a disagreement when Noel was 15 that resulted in him moving out.

Sixteen years ago, Noel made the leap from Ottawa to Toronto. Things are difficult. On the night we spoke, he and McLovin’ were sleeping on a friend’s couch. Although money is tight, McLovin’ is up to date on his shots and receives regular veterinary check-ups. Noel cleans homes when he’s not busking.

“He’s the only thing I have. No, he’s not a pet,” Noel said.

“He’s my baby, he’s like my child. When I’m crying he licks my tears, when I have bad dreams he wakes me up, I kid you not. He’s a miracle cat. He’s like a fallen angel.”

According to Noel, the pair met three years ago when he was looking for a place to live near St. Clair and Silverthorn. The landlord offered him a room for $500, but it was too small. He asked if there was anything bigger.

“He goes, ‘Yeah, but don’t worry about the smell and the mess, it’ll be cleaned up by the time you get in there.’ He unbolts this door and inside was four dead kittens and McLovin’.”

“I said, ‘I’m not going to take this room, I’m going to take this cat,’ and the rest is history. He’s my baby. He was so small, he was so little. I had to bottle feed him every two hours for two weeks straight.”

Noel and McLovin’ have a close relationship. They found each other when they were both at their most vulnerable. At the time, Noel said, he was still reeling from the deaths of his parents, who passed away within months of each other three years ago.

“I prayed to God. I just wanted not to be alone any more,” he said. “What I meant was a girl, but the exact next day I found him. And he’s in my life ever since.”