When customers head to Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy they encounter far more than racks of comic books. They also get the chance to visit their favorite cats, Mai-Dez and Abbey, who call the Austin store their home. Since its founding in 1986, the Texas retailer has had a slew of animals – dogs, cats, and even a goat! – but the tradition of having cats grace the shelves of their bookstore has been the one to stick.
The bookstore cats of Dragon’s Lair bring joy to the shop’s customers by snuggling up with them during reading sessions, providing relief for socially-anxious visitors, and entertaining the shoppers by knocking books off the shelves and napping amongst the merchandise. Not to mention, the employees relish the chance to cuddle up with a kitty in the middle of the chaos of their workday.
We caught up with Dragon’s Lair content manager, Megan Borges, to learn more about the bookstore cats that she, the staff and the visitors of Dragon’s Lair have grown so fond of.
PawCulture: What is the story behind the tradition of the Dragon’s Lair bookstore cat?
Borges:Dragon’s Lair has kept various pets since it first opened in. Cats have been a mainstay over the years, but we’ve also had the great benefit of hosting chinchillas, dogs and even a goat in the store as well. Bookstore cats provide a personal, novel and fun experience for our guests. They love them and so do we! David Wheeler (the franchise owner and first Dragon’s Lair owner) first began keeping pets in the store because he is simply an animal lover. The business started off in his house so his own pets became store pets and the tradition was born from there.
Cats are more independent by nature and we’ve found that they’re the best fit for our store’s needs. One of our owners has a blue heeler puppy that visits whenever he’s in town, though, so we still get our canine kick, and customers are also allowed to bring their pups in the store.
PawCulture: Tell us about your first bookstore cat.
Borges:The first cat was named Moto and he lived to be 19 years old. Aswan and Mai-Dez came after and Aswan lived to a ripe age of 18. We still have Mai-Dez with us. Aswan was not the first cat at Dragon’s Lair, although she is certainly our most well-known. Aswan was a fantastic store cat. She loved laying in our front windows and always enjoyed the attention and pets she received from both customers and employees. She was well known as a shoulder rider and had the habit of walking onto people to be carried around through the store. She was truly the queen of Dragon’s Lair Austin and completely ran the place while we were blessed to have her.
PawCulture: What do customers love most about your bookstore cats?
Borges:There is something about cats and books and games that just jives. It adds a casual atmosphere to our store and I truly think that Aswan in particular could provide some relief for socially-anxious visitors. Kids especially love the novelty of having a store pet and it makes the Lair seem more like a home rather than a business.
PawCulture: Tell us about your current bookstore cats.
Borges:Mai-Dez has been here for about ten years. She ended up at Dragon’s Lair because she ran into the store as a stray kitten and never left. She is a big, bold, bossy and incredibly fluffy calico who detests vacuums and enjoys long naps all around the store. We called her Mai-Dez, after May Parker in “Spider-Man,” due to her tendency to scale the carpeted walls in our old location.
Abbey has been here for about two years and she’s also ten. She came to the Lair after Aswan died and we were looking for a companion for our heartbroken Mai-Dez. One of our employees had a relative in the military shipping out overseas who needed to give away their cat. We decided to take her and Abbey was flown to Austin all the way from Massachusetts. She stays around the office more than Mai-Dez, probably due to the presence of the cat treat drawer (her favorite thing in the store).
PawCulture: What is a typical day in the life of a bookstore cat like?
Borges:The first thing we do when we get to the store is feed, medicate and water the cats. The rest of their day is spent following their favorite employees around and sleeping on event tables and chairs. Sometimes they get wound up and like to play with their various toys or cause a bit of trouble by attempting to swipe human food or laying on the T-shirt display.
PawCulture: Any funny cat bloopers?
Borges:There are plenty of funny stories from over the years; just last week we got them a new cat tree and Mai-Dez decided to lay claim to it by urinating on it in the middle of our weekly manager meeting. We’ve also had them get stuck in events cabinets, fall into trash cans, knock over figures and walk up onstage in the middle of live shows in the store!
PawCulture: What do your cats love most about living in the store?
Borges:I would guess the incredible amount of attention and love that they get. It’s a hard life to beat. Both are provided with plenty of love and they always have a ton of stimulation to keep them active and interested. Their vet is one of our regular Wednesday customers so their health is closely monitored as well.
PawCulture: Do the cats like to interact with the customers?
Borges:Mai-Dez sleeps all over the store, both at our event tables and in our reading section. It’s pretty funny because people always sit in the chairs around her rather than making her move so she does look like she’s supervising sometimes. Abbey keeps a lower profile and tends to spend most of her time in the office, but is more active at nights after around nine or so. The only rules [we have] are that customers cannot feed the cats or pick them up.
We’ve had them get stuck in events cabinets, fall into trash cans, knock over figures and walk up onstage in the middle of live shows in the store.
PawCulture: Do the cats have specific places within the store that they prefer to hang out?
Borges:The front windows are always a favorite because of the great sunlight they provide. Other favorite spots include the reading chairs, cat tree and miniatures tables. The kid’s section mat is also a well-used spot. Abbey loves riding on our metal carts and hanging out on them as well, which is a bit weird. Both will walk all the way to our restroom doors but they don’t seem to like going in there.
PawCulture: Do you have to do anything special to get them used to the customers?
Borges:We try to let the cats be themselves whether they’re feeling really personal or stand-offish. It’s just something that takes time; they get used to constant foot traffic and we let them interact as much as they want to. The most important thing we have to watch out for when we have a new cat is training them to stay indoors and not being tempted to bolt outside.
PawCulture: Will you always have a bookstore cat?
Borges:We always aim to have a store cat and have no intention of changing that practice. There is a long history of having them in the store and they provide so much to both our staff and customers that we wouldn’t consider [not having one].
Images: courtesy Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy Austin®