Cats have been teachers for Ian Somerhalder since the beginning.
The Vampire Diaries actor and soon-to-be dad got his first feline, Tiger, when he was just three years old. During their time together, Tiger was hit by a car, leading Somerhalder’s parents to spend “every dollar they had on a cat.”
The orange kitty pulled through the accident and taught his three-year-old owner a valuable lesson in the process.
“It was the first time I learned about healing, and my parents’ first time trying to explain how things change in the body. I got this amazing anatomy lesson,” Somerhalder told PEOPLE.
How did he help Tiger’s healing process? “I snuggled that dude! He was my size, he was huge.”
Today, Somerhalder is co-parent, along with wife Nikki Reed, to a whole ark of animals, including two cats, plus a rotating cast of foster kittens.
It’s caring for these kittens, many of them orphaned and in desperate need of care to survive, that have given him a taste of fatherhood.
“To get up in the middle of the night to bottle feed eight kittens that would die without you, it gives you a sense of what it’s like to care for something that depends on you for its survival,” Somerhalder said about his duties as a cat dad. “It’s a very special thing. It’s a great beginner’s course.”
He is also familiar with the messes that come along with parenting.
“I’ve learned to smile through cleaning endless amounts of poop and pee,” he said about the dirtier side of fostering kittens.
Somerhalder admits that looking after baby cats isn’t quite equal to raising a child, but there are “endless reasons that compassion for an animal can literally change the course of your life.”
For him, caring for animals has giving him the “love and patience” needed to be a dad.
With Vampire Diaries over, Somerhalder is looking forward to having more private time to spend with Reed, their baby and their numerous business ventures. He is still making room for cats, too.
Somerhalder will be attending CatCon in Los Angeles, which is happening on Aug. 12-13 at the Pasadena Convention Center, to celebrate felines and present an award to Instagram’s Kitten Lady, Hannah Shaw.
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“It’s an amazing arena for people to get together with common threads and this is in love and support of one of the coolest amazing furry critters: cats,” he said about the kitty-centric event.
It’s animal lovers like those attending this year’s CatCon that give Somerhalder hope that answers can be found to solve the animal world’s most difficult problems, including shelter overcrowding.
“I am putting it out there, that these people can come together and fix this problem from the ground up,” he said.