Contest mascot ‘Blackbeard Tom,’ by Pat Garber

By Bailey Herndon

Did Blackbeard have a cat on his ill-fated Adventure?

OcraCats is trying to discover just that, and the search for Blackbeard’s cat has begun.

A local non-profit organization devoted to caring for the feral cats on the island, OcraCats has created a photo contest for pet cats on and off the island: Photograph your cat and send in your purrfect photos.

The winning cat’s image will be embellished with suitable piratical accessories and featured on a T-shirt to be sold at the Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree Oct. 25 to 28.  This year marks the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s demise off Springer’s Point at the hand of British officer Lt Robert Maynard.

Rita Thiel is the mastermind behind the contest.

“I thought this was a good fundraiser idea for the Pirate Jamboree because the cats played an important part on the pirate ships,” she said.

Thiel explained that many of the original feral “Ocracats” might have originated from ships visiting the island through the centuries.

The entry fee is $2 per cat (two photos per cat maximum).

All proceeds will go to OcraCats, which subsists solely on donations and fundraisers to pay for food for these cats (about $4,000 per year) and to conduct a yearly spay-neuter clinic to stem the tide of kittens. In the last eight years, OcraCats clinics have “fixed” more than 600 cats.

Thiel, a retired Ocracoke School fourth-grade teacher, is passionate about the island’s animal and cat population.

“I guess the reason I’m so passionate about the cats here is because they need to be shown someone cares,” she said. “The cats are innocent animals who are often times chased away by people or pets, get soaking wet or bone-chilling cold, and never have a soft, warm lap to lie in. It breaks my heart every day to see the cats surviving mostly on their own, knowing the majority of them would be wonderful indoor pets.”

To submit your pirate cat candidate or candidates, send digital photos to or send printed photos to Ocracats, P.O. Box 993, Ocracoke, N.C. 27960. Multiple photos may be entered.

All entries must include the cat’s name, age and sex owner’s name, address, email and phone number.

For contest details and entry information, visit


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