Who Invented the Cat Dancer?

More on PawNation: cat dancer, cat toys, CatDancer, CatToys, interview, invention, jim boelke, JimBoelke
Cat dancer picture

"Oh tiny cat dancer in my hand." Photo: marcus_in_ny/Flickr

If you've owned a cat in the past twenty years, chances are you've owned a Cat Dancer. Even with its uber-simple design -- a three-foot length of wire with a few twisted-up rolls of kraft paper on each end -- cats go bananas for them, and cat lovers keep grabbing them off pet store shelves.

So who invented this marvelous, yet simple toy? That would be Jim Boelke. The proverbial light bulb that inspired the Cat Dancer went aglow over Boelke's noggin in 1978. Thirty years later, Boelke still runs Cat Dancer Products, Inc. out of Neenah, Wisconsin. Paw Nation spoke with Mr. Boelke to get the story behind his creative success.

What were you doing when you came up with the Cat Dancer?
I was going to college and working different jobs. One of them was in an animal shelter, and one of them was at a factory. The shelter was your typical county shelter in 1978. There was no such thing as a no-kill shelter. A pair of [cat] brothers came in that were so tiny. You could hold both of them in one hand. I couldn't take it. It's like, "No, you just can't kill these two; they're too cute." So I took them home, and of course my roommates were a little iffy on the whole idea.

They weren't cat people?
They were college students; they didn't need another expense or something else to worry about. I'm not sure I did either. [laughs]

But you couldn't help it.
I just couldn't. My other job was cleaning up at a factory, and part of what I did every night was to sweep the floors. Wire with some cardboard bits would fall on the floor. And one [piece of wire] kind of bounced around. I looked at it, then modified what I'd picked up, took it home, and doggone it if [those cats] didn't just go nuts over it! They would run after it like crazy. I'd never seen a cat get so excited about a toy. And neither had any of the other people that frequented our house. Pretty soon I was being asked to make them for everyone. "Jim, can you get some more of those?" Well yeah, they're garbage; I can bring you one. And one for your sister and your cousin and your brother-in-law and everybody else you can think of. All I had to do was use the snips and a pair of pliers and I could turn it into a nice toy.

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