MINNEAPOLIS – Vikings safety Anthony Harris signed up for a Humane Society event to help change the lives of animals.
What he didn't realize, however, is how much those animals would change his life.
Harris joined Vikings teammates in November 2018 as a way to draw more community members into the animal shelter and promote animal adoption. While there, something caught his eye.
Harris noticed a cat interacting playfully with a woman before crawling up onto her shoulders and lying down across her coat's large collar.
When Harris inquired about the cat, he was told by a shelter staff member that she had recently been adopted by the woman, but one of their other kittens had a similar personality.
"The lady pulled [Ella] out. She was sleeping, so I was like, 'I don't know if her personality is how I like,' but once they woke her up she was super into me, and I was like, 'All right, she's social,' " Harris recalled with a smile.
View photos of Vikings S Anthony Harris and his rescue cats Cookie and Ella who are featured in a special segment of Purple Paws.
He reserved the tabby mix and planned to pick her up a few days later. Unfortunately, Harris was notified that Ella had been exposed to an illness that, if she contracted it, would likely be fatal.
While the shelter held Ella for observation, Harris was introduced to a dark gray-and-cream-colored Siamese mix, Cookie, whom he decided to adopt in the meantime. Then he received a phone call that Ella would be OK, and he faced a decision.
"I kind of felt bad," Harris said. "I really liked Ella, and I was like, 'You know, I don't know if I want two cats yet. I've only had one for a week.' But then I started talking to people who had cats, and they were saying they're better in twos, and I thought it would be pretty neat just to have somebody to play with. So I went back, picked her up, and they've been hanging since.
"They didn't have a great relationship [starting out]," Harris added with a laugh. "They both looked at each other and had their backs up, they kind of made a little fighting noise, and I was like, 'Hey! Ya'll gotta figure it out, or somebody's gotta go back.' So I gave them a couple of days, and they adjusted. Now they cuddle on each other and lick on each other and all that other cat stuff."
Cookie and Ella are happy and comfortable in their forever home.
The two felines dash daily around Harris' Minneapolis apartment, hiding beneath and behind furniture, playing with their toys and climbing the cat scratch tower.
And like the "siblings" they are, Cookie and Ella's personality differences are less than subtle.
While Ella will hurry to introduce herself to a visitor, Cookie scurries to the darkness of a nearby bedroom. Harris describes Ella "like a little kid."
"She wakes up early, and she'll cry at the door, and she knows how to get in. She just puts her paw in there and opens it up," Harris said. "Ella is super social. She likes me to pick her up and hold her.
"And then the Siamese, Cookie, she's kind of like a little diva," he continued. "She's the one that everybody sees and [wants to pick her up] – and she lets you hold her for a while, then she just jumps down."
Both cats will lie on Harris' lap, but he chuckles at what he believes to be their different motivations for affection: "Ella enjoys the company. Cookie uses me as a pillow."
Harris doesn't shy away from showing off the cats that have become a big part of his life. In fact, they have their own Instagram account, @hooscoolcats, with more than 3,300 followers.
Harris initially posted about them on his own account, @hoosdatdude, and joked that people more enjoyed the photos of the cats than of the NFL safety.
"I had a few people who have literally commented out of humor – and maybe some seriousness – 'Hey, I'm just here to see the cats,' " Harris said. "So, I kind of wanted to give the people what they wanted and made them an [Instagram account].
"I try to post about them equally. I try to be a good parent and not have any biased opinions about them or treat them differently," he added with a smile.
Not everyone is a cat lover, though, and Harris admitted that he gets ribbed on a regular basis by some of his teammates, particularly dog owners.
"It's like, 'What kind of guy gets a cat, man?' " Harris said. "Or if we're in the weight room or something and they're talking about who's stronger, it's like, 'He's not stronger than me' or 'He's not faster than me – he's got cats.' Stuff like that."
But he also proudly added that there's been an increase of intrigue from teammates about cat ownership.
"I'm not going to say it has anything to do with me and my two cats, but that's just what I've been getting," Harris said. "I always recommend, 'You should get your cat from an animal shelter, because that way you change a cat's life.' "
Harris is grateful that he chose adoption, even though it wasn't something he initially planned.
And if you ask him, he now has the perfect pair of pets.
"I like the fact that, together, they're not too overwhelming. The fact that [Ella] craves a lot of attention and [Cookie] doesn't, it's nice for me. Having both of them on my lap at the same time can get a little heavy," Harris quipped.
"When I get home and put my feet up and am on the couch, I feel bad when I fall asleep, they're sleeping on me, and then I wake up and [startle them] and they don't know what's going on," he continued.
Harris paused to look down at Ella, cuddling in his arms, and at Cookie, chasing a beam of light on the floor.
"They kind of balance each other out."