Emmy Park, the talented photographer behind The Dogs of Cuba Instagram account and book talks to us about cats and her new book The Cats of Cuba.
cats of cuba
Havana Photo: Emmy Park

We’ve run two stories about dogs in Cuba. One was by Startup Cuba writer and Nat Geo photojournalist Christopher Baker. The other, an interview with photographer Emmy Park, told the story of her popular Instagram account, The Dogs of Cuba. The latter also turned into a coffee table book, filled with Emmy’s super talented photography of Cuba’s four-legged friends.

But, what about cats? Does Cuba not have cats? Stupid Rhetorical question. Of course Cuba has cats. Lots of cats. And, despite their sneaky, quiet squints from behind corners and building rubble, they’re kinda adorable. Really adorable. So, along with dogs, Emmy also gathered images of our feline friends through a combination of patience and walking over 8 trips to Cuba from 2015 to 2018. My conversation with Emmy and some shots of her new fluffy friends from the island are below.

My Chat With Emmy Park, Curator of The Cats of Cuba

Here’s my interview with Emmy (edited for clarification only).

cats of cuba havana emmy park
Havana Photo: Emmy Park

Startup Cuba: I know you love dogs. But where did the idea of The Cats of Cuba come from?

Emmy Park: I originally had the idea to do one book “Cuba Dogumentary” and include some cat images, but my publisher asked if I’d be interested in doing two books, one for cats and another for dogs. It makes sense, because many dog and cat lovers can be very separated—many typically prefer one or the other. So, it wound up being two; The Dogs of Cuba and a book called The Cats of Cuba.

“Cats were so hard—the elusive way they move (jump/climb fences easily), the time of day/night and the places they like to go made it extra hard to photograph them.”

Startup Cuba: How are cats’ relationships with their Cuban owners different from dogs, if at all?

Emmy Park: I think pet cats were as much part of the family as dogs. Of course, cats have a very different personality and character than dogs, but from what I saw, I think people really seemed to love their cat. I met many people who regularly fed stray cats as well. However, I did hear from animal rescuers in Cuba that some people use cats in various offerings and black cats often have a negative association.

What Do You Want to See in Our Cuban Food Film?

Startup Cuba: Tell me about the differences photographing cats in Cuba vs. Dogs.

Emmy Park: Such a big difference. Cats were so hard—the elusive way they move (jump/climb fences easily), the time of day/night and the places they like to go made it extra hard to photograph them. I couldn’t shoot at night due to several reasons, but saw many cats roaming the streets at night, moving on fences and rooftops. In some places, if I couldn’t find any cats, I asked locals if they knew anyone who had a cat and they were so helpful. Just like with dogs, when people saw me taking photos of cats, they would bring out their pet cat.

I wasn’t very happy with the images for the cat book so after I traveled in Cuba for 60 days, I went back for 3 weeks (partly because I wanted to go back) and traveled to Havana, Matanzas and Cardenas. I met with more animal rescuers from CEDA & APAC and other individuals who care for the street pups & cats.

Startup Cuba: Do many Cuban families have cats as pets?

Emmy Park: I think many people do, but hard to say because I saw less cats and more dogs.

What Do You Want to See in Our Cuban Food Film?

Startup Cuba: Since there aren’t as many cats, is it easy to find them to photograph?

Emmy Park: My casa family in Havana, whom I’ve known for a few years now, told me to go to the market because “there are a lot of cats”—when she said that, I was thinking maybe 5 at most. I was so surprised to see a lot of cats sitting above the butchers. When I visited them, I saw that they give scraps to the cats. I bought some meat and asked the kind butchers to throw the meat to the cats. 

Startup Cuba: Where can people find the book?

Emmy Park: Amazon, your local bookstore, or me. At the moment, if people purchase either book from me, I’ll be donating net profits to people in Cuba, whether that be syringes, money or if it’s possible to send medicine for the dogs/cats. People can contact me via my IG for inquires.

the cats of cuba book by emmy park
The Cats of Cuba Book by Emmy Park, available on Amazon.

Startup Cuba: Anything else about cats, Cuba, cats in Cuba, the book, or anything?

Emmy Park: Cats are far more independent animals than dogs. I’d often find cats snoozing on a neighbor’s rooftop from the casa I was staying at. For instance, see the siamese at perched on the roof — shot from across the street while I was sipping my morning coffee in Centro Habana (2015).

(Hero Image photo: Centro Habana, Emmy Park)

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Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com. Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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