EVERETT — She was known worldwide as the “Youngest Old Cat Lady.”
Her life centered around cat rescue, fostering, adoption and “spreading happiness through mini lions.” Her Instagram had playful kittens and her special brand of humor.
Along with cute kitties, there was another side Ashley Morrison shared with her nearly 250,000 Instagram followers on @youngestoldcatlady: Her struggle with mental illness.
Ashley died by suicide on April 6. She was 31.
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 traveled extensively, to five continents, 31 countries and 40 states, part of which was a semester at sea in college.
After her father Jay Morrison died by suicide in 2015, she and her mom, Cindi, immediately fostered three cuddly kittens who needed to be bottle-fed around the clock.
“It’s what got us through,” Cindi Morrison said. “People would come over to mourn with us and we’d all sit around the table and bottle-feed kittens instead of having long faces and crying and not knowing what to talk about.”
Ashley began to share photos of these three kittens on social media with friends and family. It became so popular that she came up with Youngest Old Cat Lady as her moniker, creating content that has led to a quarter-million followers on Instagram and another 183,000 on Facebook.
When Ashley realized how much good she and her followers could do in the cat world, she founded the nonprofit Ashley’s Kitten Academy to financially help others foster felines and the TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) of feral cats.
At one time she had 33 cats under her care, but not all were in her home. Some were in foster homes or at her mom’s house.
“I did it with her, for her,” her mother said.
Ashley made her an Instagram spin-off as @youngestoldcatgrandma.
“The question she was most often asked was how she was able to give those darling kittens away,” Cindi Morrison said. “Her answer was: ‘I cry every time, but I know there are so many more that need my help.’”
Because of her work, others were inspired to begin fostering.
@youngestoldcatlady Even made it to the front page of Reddit! Kitty kisses. #catvideo #kitten ♬ original sound – Youngestoldcatlady
“To meet Ashley is to love Ashley,” her mother said. “She was just a wonderful soul but unfortunately had a mental illness that she couldn’t get past. She was always the funniest one in the room, entertaining everybody.”
A few years after her father’s death, she decided to speak out about suicide on her page.
“She said, ‘People just sweep mental health problems under the rug and it’s just not right. People need to realize that it is an illness, just like cancer or any other disease,’” Cindi Morrison said.
On what would have been her dad’s 62nd birthday last month, Ashley wrote a long post about the stigma of suicide, ending with, “Feel free to use this as an excuse to eat cake in his memory today.”
News of her death blew up on social media this week.
Reddit threads praised her “unfiltered truth.”
“Ashley was transparent about her own struggles, but I am so, so heartbroken that this is how her story ended,” a post said.
Said another: “Ashley was so public about her mental health struggles …. I’m glad she’s at peace, but I wish it didn’t end this way. She was a terrific foster and an absolutely hilarious internet presence.”
Over 8,300 Instagram comments on her final post came from all over the world.
“You helped save so many beautiful lives,” one read. “Wish we could have done more to help you.”
Ashley scheduled her final post before she died. It came out a few days after her death, shocking and saddening her family and thousands of followers.
“Hello all, Thank you for the years of support and a wonderful life you’ve given me. I don’t want anyone to take this as a sign to quit. I have been struggling for so long,” it read in part.
The Daily Herald doesn’t usually publish messages left by those who die by suicide.
“It wasn’t really a suicide note, it was just a thank-you and 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.”
She said the family wants to thank everyone for their outpouring of love and the flowers sent.
“My house is overflowing with flowers and I can’t take anymore right now,” she said. “If you would like to take this occasion to eat some German chocolate cake, it was her absolute favorite. Please think of her when you eat it.”
Flowers are welcome at a celebration of life that will be held at a later date.
Memorial donations can be made to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project in Lynnwood or an animal rescue of your choice.
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
Help is available 24/7
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.
Text 988 to reach the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline: 988lifeline.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness Snohomish County: namisnohomishcounty.org
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