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Star of The Simpsons and host of the popular true-crime podcast, “Small Town Dicks,” Smith is also a self-professed crazy cat mom—and passionate animal rescue advocate.

By Tracey L. Kelley
Updated April 08, 2021
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Voice actor Yeardley Smith kisses cat on face
Credit: Courtesy of Yeardley Smith

She's tried teaching her cats to use the toilet. Nope. Kitties on leashes. No way. She even installed a cool cat gym "that's so beautiful, it looks like a piece of Danish sculpture" along her stairway for their amusement. Her cats don't use it. 

In other words, celebrities like actress Yeardley Smith are just like us—her fabulous felines, Zipper and Petunia, allow her into their world. She's just the narrator of it. And the person who fetches their food at 4:15 each morning. 

But she wouldn't have it any other way. Smith loves everything about cats. "I like how they smell, how they're cuddly, their size … I love their purring and their faces. I just feel we were meant to be together," she tells Daily Paws. What a coincidence—those are some of the many reasons we love cats, too!

Almost all of her cats have been rescues. For example, when she first discovered Zipper and Petunia, it was during an adoption event at a pet supplies retailer, and she couldn't stop thinking about them. They weren't biological sisters, but kitten pals all the same, so after simmering over the decision for a while, Smith decided to adopt them both. Now they're sweet senior kitties at almost 14. Once close and cuddly, these days they simply tolerate each other, Smith says. 

Zipper (above), named so because she zipped around as a youngster, is deaf. About four years ago, she was ill for months with a sinus issue and lost her hearing. But she's a relatively calm lap cat and enjoys acupuncture. Smith thought Petunia, below, had the most perfect pearly-pink nose, like a flower. Petunia is more anxious, and always on patrol. "I wonder why. What could I have done when she was a kitten to make her know that she's safe, well, and that I would do anything for her, so she could just relax?" Smith says.

Surprisingly, as a renowned actress and voiceover artist (she's acted as Lisa on The Simpsons for more than 30 years), Smith doesn't make up voices for her cats or speak to them in a specific way, but she can imitate their variance in meows perfectly! Like many pet parents, she's confident that if one of them were lost and she was searching the neighborhood, she would know them instantly by their meows. "It's like your kids—you can just tell."

Are Zipper and Petunia spoiled? Oh yes! "If there's half a can of cat food left when we all go to bed, I cover it with a lid and put it in the 'fridge. When it comes out in the morning, I put it in the microwave for 6 seconds so it's room temperature when I give it to them," Smith says. "But sometimes even now, they're like, 'I know that's yesterday's.'"

And although the kitties have an excessive number of cat toys, Smith believes that anybody who has a cat knows toys are virtually useless, stating their favorite plaything is a crumpled-up Post-it. 

She also can't resist persistent Zipper's 4:15 breakfast wake-up calls. Unlike Petunia, Zipper can't follow a cue to go back to bed, because she wouldn't be able to hear it. Smith, a really light sleeper, says Zipper "does this thing where she says, 'Mewrer?'—and then she waits. 'Mewrer?' She just keeps at it. If you put her outside the room, which I've tried, but of course that doesn't work, because cats and closed doors are just a no-go." 

So she gets up, feeds them, and goes back to bed. "And then I feel like, 'Yeah, you own me.'" 

And let's talk about the cat gym, which she had built because they were going to be indoor cats. An intricate maze of boxes, steps, and shelves to observe the world from on high (as kitties are prone to do) seemed like the best idea.

"For the first two years, maybe, they were sort of interested in it. And now...they don't use it at all, except occasionally, to sleep in the top trays, where there are little boxes which are laid with carpet and a bit soft," she says. "I thought it was so beautifully designed, and I was so excited about it! But they kind of thumbed their little noses at me and said, 'Ha! Who cares, lady?'"

Composite of Yeardley Smith's cat stairs
Credit: Courtesy of Yeardley Smith

As many of us understand, pandemic homelife changed the relationship between Smith and her darlings. "It's a funny thing. I feel like people who've never had cats say, 'Oh, I don't like cats—they're so aloof, they're sort-of standoffish.' I've never had that experience with any of my cats. I actually really love and respect their independence." 

But she feels they're more needy now because their routine is disrupted, and they follow her around like dogs and interrupt her work. Her solution? Put a big, poofy cat bed in front of the gas fireplace in her office. Seems to do the trick!

She's an ardent supporter of the Best Friends Animal Society, which just recently celebrated 11 years of advocacy efforts to finally make Los Angeles the largest no-kill community in the nation. She encourages prospective pet parents to take their time when choosing to adopt a kitty, and wait for one that bonds with you. If you don't make a connection during one visit, go back again and see who's new.

"Don't feel as though you should take one just because they're a rescue. Don't feel rushed—of course, we want to rescue them all," Smith says. "But it's important to feel like there's already a symbiotic relationship between you, because I feel in many ways that our pets choose us."