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Internet Darlings, Desperate in Real Life

The comment below the "Maru and Boxes" video says it all: "I hate cats, but I love this one." Maru, a Japanese cat with a fondness for jumping in boxes, enjoys the adoration and status of an Internet celebrity, with his debut clip logging over 21 million views. On YouTube, there are currently some 25 million cat videos posted. Clearly, we love Internet cats.

2015-08-26-1440620077-14184-womanwithcat_lo.jpgBut offline, Maru's friends aren't feeling the love. Millions live on their own, lost, abandoned or born outdoors, struggling to survive on the mean streets of almost every community. Each fall and spring, the kittens born to these homeless cats arrive in their own cardboard boxes at local shelters and millions are euthanized at taxpayer expense because not enough people are willing to adopt them. In fact, 1 in 4 Americans say they would never adopt a cat.

The caring people who do adopt cats don't get off easy, either. They're often branded as crazy cat ladies (or men), those lonely souls so desperate they must turn to their pets for any sense of belonging.

But there is hope. Recent research from PetSmart Charities reveals that most people think the stereotypes about cats and cat people are wrong and that changing these outdated perceptions will increase cat adoptions. What's more, most people say they actually like cat owners and find them intelligent, chic and even attractive.

Some people are picking up on this cattitude adjustment. Savvy pet product companies have launched campaigns debunking the crazy cat lady myth with humor. Back online, people can see for themselves that cats are far from the aloof and unemotional creatures some mistakenly believe. What's more, their relative independence makes them perfect companions for people with busy, fast-paced lifestyles.

2015-08-27-1440682930-5492151-familyfindscat_cropped.jpgSo how can pet-loving people defeat the haters and finally make these life-threatening stereotypes go the way of yesterday's kitty litter?

If you already own a cat, tell people why they make great companions. If you're looking for a pet, consider adopting a cat - or a dog, both need loving homes. If you can't adopt, volunteer at your local shelter. A few minutes of playtime can make a pet's day and cleaning some cages will free up a shelter worker to spend more time with a potential adopter.

However much fun it is to watch a cat cavort online, it's far more fulfilling to touch one, play with a kitten and give a little part of yourself to another being. And you may even save a life while you're at it.

Photo credits: PetSmart Charities