EVERETT — She was an influencer on social media as the “Youngest Old Cat Lady” and also as Ashley, a relatable person.
Ashley Morrison’s death on April 6 touched thousands of people and has raised over $50,000 for the support of cats and mental health services.
Ashley, 31, shared kitten photos, rescue advocacy and her humor to nearly 250,000 Instagram followers on @youngestoldcatlady, plus another 183,000 on Facebook and 670,000 on TikTok. She also shared her struggle with mental illness.
The mix of cute kitties and serious issues made people feel safe to discuss either.
Her mom, Cindi Morrison, has since taken over her daughter’s Instagram account to maintain a connection with her audience, who felt like they knew Ashley personally. She had formed a community.
“People are reaching out to me from all over the world,” Cindi Morrison said. “I am learning how many people she encouraged to begin fostering and also how many people she helped through hard times, both emotionally and with cats and kittens. When someone needed Ashley, she was always there.”
Cindi Morrison said she wishes her daughter knew the vast impact she made.
“She had no idea,” she said.
Many in Ashley’s community asked about a memorial service. Her mother said she was afraid a thousand people would show up, so a private celebration of life was held May 20 at Everett Golf and Country Club.
“It was a beautiful event that I’m sure Ashley would have been happy with,” her mom said. “If she had any idea of the devastation she would leave behind, she might still be here. In my mourning, I am determined to celebrate every minute of the 31 years I had with her. If I don’t, I won’t make it through this.”
Ashley scheduled her final Instagram post to run two days after her death, in which she thanked her followers for “the years of support and a wonderful life you’ve given me.”
She went on to say, “This battle is over for me. And with that, I am at peace. Please, take care of each other.”
The Daily Herald doesn’t usually publish messages left by those who die by suicide.
“It was a goodbye to her followers,” Cindi Morrison said. “We thought it was important to share it to shine a light on the illness that so many are struggling with.”
The parting Instagram post received over 9,000 comments expressing sorrow and praise.
“You inspired so many with the work you did,” one said.
“I’m so, so sorry we weren’t able to rescue you, Ashley. You mattered,” read another.
Her social media name, Youngest Old Cat Lady, was more than a moniker.
“She lived it 24/7,” Cindi Morrison said. “I would say, ‘Do you want to go out and do this or that?’ and she’d say, ‘Mom, I can’t. I’m working. I’m building an empire.’ She really did build an empire. It was built on hard work, her personality and her love of cats.”
At first, Ashley only posted kitty photos to her few dozen followers. Her mother told her, “You should include yourself in your posts because people will love you.”
It took a little convincing, but she finally did.
“It wasn’t until her following was quite large that Ashley felt comfortable to combine being a proponent of mental health with her cute kitten posts,” Morrison said. “She was happy to have that platform to spread this important message.”
She spoke at CatCon, a national cat-centric convention, about mental health and how fostering helped her through it.
She founded the nonprofit Ashley’s Kitten Academy to financially help others foster felines and feral cats.
Amy Ferguson, director of Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project in Lynnwood, said about $35,000 has been donated in Ashley’s memory.
“We are incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in memory of Ashley,” Ferguson said. “Ashley understood the importance of spay-neuter and the impact it has on the feral and community cat population. She was such a big part of our clinic, and on a personal level we’ll greatly miss her.”
Morrison said $16,000 has been donated to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Others have made contributions to the animal rescue of their choice in her name.
“People are making donations all over the world,” Morrison said. “I just found out about a contribution to a sanctuary in Ireland.”
She asked that people enjoy a piece of German chocolate cake in Ashley’s memory. It was her favorite.
“Hugs from Germany where we’ve been having chocolate cake in her honor and hugging our adopted kitties extra tight,” someone wrote. “I picture her in a pile of happy kitties with her dad, at peace.”
Morrison is exploring options to use future contributions to create something permanent in Ashley’s name at a local shelter. Updates will be posted on the “Youngest Old Cat Grandma” Instagram page Ashley created in 2019 for her mom, who often fostered kittens for her. Morrison will carry on as @youngestoldcatgrandma.
Ashley had a small tattoo on her finger that she’d hold up to make her look like she had cat whiskers.
People are getting whisker tattoos in her honor, Morrison said. Or a semicolon, a symbol of affirmation and solidarity with those who have dealt with suicide and other mental health issues. She plans to get a tattoo of a cat on her wrist.
Ashley grew up in Everett. She moved to Los Angeles in her early 20s to pursue a career in acting. Her favorite claim to fame was appearing in a Taylor Swift video. She returned home after three years to finish her degree at the University of Washington Bothell.
She found her passion in cats.
What she ultimately did, whether she was aware of it or not, was create connections with others and make it OK to talk about mental health.
It’s that legacy that Morrison is continuing. She is making that legacy even more powerful by sharing her own grief.
“This has been really hard,” she said. “You expect to lose your parents, but not your child. My phone used to go off all day from her. We were very close, very attached. It is very different now.”
Correction: A previous version of this story had the wrong Instagram account Ashley Morrison’s mother is using to carry on her legacy, which is @youngestoldcatgrandma. Also, Ashley’s title, “Youngest Old Cat Lady,” was incorrect in the headline.