On Unalaska’s trails, listen for Jojo, the hiking cat

A cat with a white chest peeks from the tall grass
Mariza Tovar said she found out that JoJo was a hiker when she’d start putting her shoes on, getting ready to hit the trail, and JoJo would approach her, as if begging to join. (MAGGIE NELSON/KUCB)

JoJo is an Unalaska resident who loves hiking, loves fish, and enjoys catching up with his neighbors. In other words, he’s a lot like most people on the island. The striking thing about JoJo, though, is that he’s a cat.

JoJo is the island’s famous hiking cat with an undeniably charming character. And as I hiked up Ski Bowl, near Nirvana Hill recently, he stealthily pursued me, crouched low to the ground, attentively observing his surroundings. If it hadn’t been for the green and yellow reflective fringe and bell hanging from his collar, I would have had no clue how closely he trailed.

Mariza Tovar is one of JoJo’s owners and many devotees. Tovar said JoJo always roams free and never goes out on a leash, and while he’s unsuccessfully tried to join her in the kayak, he prefers to stick to the tundra with hiking buddies rather than roaming into town on his own.

Although JoJo didn’t have a whole lot to add during the hike—he was generally distracted with cheekily avoiding my camera, stopping for water breaks along the creek, or bathing in pools of sunshine—Tovar and her partner, Harish Vasavan, were excited to dote on their beloved JoJo.

“The house is called JoJo Mansion. There’s a bed for him on almost every window,” Vasavan said.

Before he became a member of the Tovar and Vasavan household, JoJo lived as a stray intermittently for nearly three years in Unalaska. (MAGGIE NELSON/KUCB)

Vasavan and Tovar both agree that it’s hard to deny JoJo when he spreads out on the ground, taunting you with the soft, white, contrasting inner side of his belly—a move they refer to as the “JoJo spread.” And as Tovar noted, it’s a move he uses to get treats and attention from many people in the area.

She said that while he doesn’t do much real hiking without a partner, he roams the neighborhood, making daily visits to old friends.

“He has a favorite neighbor that gives him tuna,” said Tovar. “JoJo knows the sound of [the neighbor’s] car. He gets home from lunch and I’ve seen [JoJo]—he’ll just wait. And then [the neighbor] will leave the door open and there goes JoJo and he has his own water bowl and food bowl.” 

Before he became a member of the Tovar and Vasavan household, JoJo lived as a stray intermittently for nearly three years in Unalaska. And while he managed well living as a stray, Tovar said that he acclimated quickly to domesticated life.

Tovar said she found out that JoJo was a hiker when she’d start putting her shoes on, getting ready to hit the trail, and JoJo would approach her, as if begging to join. And so she and Vasavan began bringing him on their hikes, and JoJo just continued to follow. 

Like most of the cats on the island, JoJo is instinctive, strong, and a survivor. While he loves luxuries like canned tuna, his fluffy beds in practically every window at home, and even a personal Instagram account, JoJo is a hunter at heart. So much so, that Tovar said she had to find him a collar to keep him from hunting birds.

“When he does bring them home, when they’re not alive, he’ll eat the whole thing,” said Tovar. “He’ll just chomp on the head first and then just, like, it’s gone.” 

Based on his hunting abilities and years of living as a stray, Tovar said that she anticipates that JoJo will continue hiking with her and Vasavan throughout the winter.