Pumpkin, the Athens election cat, is an internet sensation.
Photos of Pumpkin on social media, including Twitter and Reddit, garner thousands of interactions and comments praising the cat for his work at the Athens County Board of Elections, where he stands vigil, warily eyeing down voters who might be up to funny business.
“People seem to be more interested in taking pictures of Pumpkin than in ballots,” Athens County Board of Election Director Debbie Quivey said.
A social media influencer
Pumpkin’s most recent photo-worthy happening was an apparent spat with a dog on Court Street, where in a rare show of energy he hissed and bared his teeth at the dog.
The photo took off, and even Ohio University Athletics changed their profile picture on social media to the Ohio University bobcat sports logo to a photo of Pumpkin hissing.
Grace Eberhart, 20, a junior at Ohio University, recently posted the photo of Pumpkin bearing his teeth at a dog on Twitter, with the caption “pumpkin is the great protector.” On that platform, the photo got over 3,000 likes and 300 retweets. (Don't tell Twitter, but Pumpkin is a sort of stage name — his real name is Pierre.)
They said they posted the photo because Pumpkin usually demonstrates much less energy than when the photo was taken.
“Pumpkin is usually dead asleep when people see him in the window, so it was wild seeing him stancing up and defending his kingdom,” Eberhart said in a message.
Eberhart added they were shocked to see the response the photo got on Twitter and said Pumpkin brings joy not only to them, but also to students and the community more broadly.
“It's been weird getting so much attention on that tweet, but Pumpkin deserves it so I don't mind acting as the middle man,” Eberhart said. “I think it's awesome that so many people love him and see him as an icon of OU's culture. He deserves the fame.”
Quivey said Pumpkin’s fame is the talk of the office, and his most recent confrontation with the dog was the talk (and source of laughter) among staff.
“We can't help it, we just think it's so funny he’s so popular,” Quivey said.
Quivey and others at the Board of Elections didn’t anticipate Pumpkin’s popularity when they adopted him as a rescue in 2013. She and then-Deputy Director Penny Brooks, who passed away in 2020, took on the cat after Quivey and Brooks encountered two Ohio University students arguing about Pumpkin.
The boyfriend of the couple wanted the cat out of the apartment, and the girlfriend asked the election workers to take him.
Quivey told The Athens Messenger in 2013 they initially kept him out of the spotlight, fearing what the public would think about an animal in the Board of Elections Office.
Since then, though, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity. He even has a Pumpkin fan page on Instagram with over 5,000 followers. On Reddit, his photos regularly circulate in niche groups such as “cats with jobs” and recently received over 40,000 positive interactions on a photo of him with the caption “would you elect him.”
Even some local businesses are benefiting from Pumpkin’s fame. Ohio is Home, located on Court Street, has begun selling Pumpkin merchandise, including shirts and stickers.
Heather Dota, who designed the Pumpkin merchandise, said the idea initially came when Red Tail Designs in Athens was contacted by the U.S. Census to come up with a design to increase interest in census participation.
Pumpkin, she said, was a fitting subject for the design.
“Pumpkins has been on Reddit, he's been all over the internet, I'm personally the crazy cat lady,” Dota said. “But I get to see him every day, so he's always a highlight.”
The design and merchandise was so popular, Dota said, it is now a mainstay at Ohio is Home.
“I would say most orders these days, regardless if they buy something else, include a Pumpkin sticker,” Dota said.
Beyond his social media acumen, Pumpkin enjoys a quiet life. He lives full time at the Board of Elections office on Court Street, but when elections roll around, Pumpkin takes a vacation at Kroners Animal Care in Athens.
“All the noise and extra people make him nervous,” Quivey said.
Brigette Davidson, the office manager at Kroners Animal Care, said Pumpkin is a “good boy” when he boards with them and enjoys playing with mice toys.
“If you're walking by and you don't say good morning, he’ll stick his paw out and pat you and say 'no, no, come back,’” Brigette said.
Politically, Quivey said, he is a “demo-cat” because of his love for Brooks, who was a Democrat. When Brooks passed in 2020, Quivey said Pumpkin noticed her absence.
“You know how an animal will pick one person out? Well Penny (Brooks) was his human,” Quivey said. “He has missed her terribly. He grieved — he really did.”
Pumpkin, who is around 10 years old, is a healthy cat, Quivey said, despite his famed weight. However, he has also had several medical issues and had to have some teeth pulled. He also has a special diet, meaning he can’t have food with chicken or grains.
“Pumpkin's health is doing really well, we take really good care of him,” Quivey said.
“Overall, he's a very healthy kitty — only problem is — he’s very spoiled.”
All his expenses used to be covered by an anonymous benefactor, although that arrangement has since ended, Quivey said. Now, all the living expenses for Pumpkin are split between the Board of Elections employees.
“We joked that Pumpkin had an inheritance,” Quivey said.
Throngs of fans
Davidson said Pumpkin has a hard time hiding his fame while being boarded at Kroners.
“It’s actually really funny because we’ve had a couple people recognize him,” Davidson said. “Yes, that's the Pumpkin.”
Quivey said during Ohio University's graduation, students flock to the Board of Elections building to take photos with Pumpkin and give him treats. She said she's even been recognized for her association with the cat.
“My funniest story is I went to a doctor, and there was a big reception desk where you check in — I told him where I worked and the girl went, ‘Oh my gosh, you're the place that has Pumpkin,’” Quivey said.
Quivey encourages people to come to the Board of Elections office, meet Pumpkin, and register to vote or vote early.
“Pumpkin will be in the front window and I invite everyone to come early and look at him and vote,” Quivey said.