The Art of Fund-Raising
Who said that cats and dogs can’t pull their own weight?
By Andy McDonald
Olaf and O’Malley may not be household names in the art world, but their paintings, and those of more than 100 other felines in Berea, Kentucky, have raised thousands of dollars through “Cats Who Paint,” the town’s annual art show and auction. Likewise, portraits of Buddy and Taco may never grace the walls of the Met, but photographs of them and 117 other West Virginia canines raised funds to rescue less fortunate dogs in the Shepherdstown Canine Project. It turns out that both dogs and cats have a talent for inspiring local artists and businesspeople to help needy animals. The only difference is the artistic medium.
Strokes of the Paw
In Berea, cats are encouraged by their human companions to make paw prints, scratches or tail swishes on blank paper or canvas, creating “art” that is later sold to benefit cat rescue efforts in the community. Residents submit photographs of their cat in the process of making the art and an artist’s “statement” for the show. The work of 30 to 40 cats is featured each year.
“This was the event of my dreams,” says art gallery owner Pamela Corley, who founded Cats Who Paint in 1998. “I believe the most important purpose of art is to transform people, and this transforms the relationships between people and their animals. Pet parents can express very deep emotional bonds with their cats, but in a fun way.”
Corley says encouraging artistic expression in animals who are so independent-minded might seem like an unlikely feat, but she says the secret to producing feline masterpieces is persuasion through play.
As one who has collaborated on art with several cats, Corley recommends using a large piece of paper for a canvas. This allows the cat freedom of movement. In order to insure the cat’s safety, only nontoxic watercolors, tempera paints or food coloring should be used, and most important, Corley says owners should respect their pets and never engage in an activity that may cause them any harm or distress.
“One has to remember that none of this is their natural behavior,” she says.
Corley notes that one way to pique the interest of cats is to mix in a substance that is agreeable to them, such as tuna juice or salmon juice. “Mackerel juice works too,” she says, “but that’s a little less appealing for the human companion who’s working with the cat.”
Once the canvas and paints are ready, Corley dangles a painting brush from the end of a string, dragging it over the canvas, or she wets her cat’s paws or tail with the nontoxic paints. Cats can walk over the canvas as they chase the string, thus creating their works of art.
Berea’s feline artisans have produced paw prints and tail strokes that can be surprisingly colorful and striking, according to the event’s auctioneer, Kent Gilbert. Gilbert says a piece of cat art displayed in his office often draws praise from people who aren’t immediately aware that it was created by a cat.
“I just tell them the artist is ‘Picatso,’ although it could have been ‘Gustav Meow,’ too, says Gilbert.
Cats Who Paint was initially launched to benefit the Madison County Humane Society’s Spay and Neuter Program, but the focus shifted to The Kitty, Inc., a fund established to support animal rescue in the community. An important part of that effort, says Corley, is helping to pay for the appropriate veterinary care to insure that before they are placed in new homes, stray cats are tested for diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV).
“Spaying and neutering is important, but we don’t want to place a cat who’s going to infect other cats,” Corley says. “I think infecting other cats is as bad as producing large populations of unwanted kittens and dogs, so we really want to raise people’s awareness about that part of the adoption process, as well.”
The success of Cats Who Paint has prompted other animal lovers in the region to raise money and awareness through art shows. In addition to the
$5,000 raised for cats in Berea, cat art shows have also benefited humane societies in other Kentucky cities, and in Ohio.
“It can happen in every community, and I would encourage people to go for it,” Corley says. “We need more education and awareness, and this is a fun way to accomplish that.”
While felines in Kentucky may employ paint as their mode of expression, film is the art of choice for their canine counterparts in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Last summer, wildlife photographers Barbara Keech and Debora Barr photographed local dogs and staged a gallery show to benefit two animal advocacy organizations, the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County and Spay Today.
When they moved to the community in 2001, Keech and Barr were looking for a creative way to introduce themselves and their work to the people of Shepherdstown. Both were already committed to the cause of animal rescue, prompting them to create the unique Shepherdstown Canine Project.
“We were brainstorming and we realized that the opportunity was right in our face,” says Keech. “The people in Shepherdstown love their dogs. So we decided to put out the word that we wanted to photograph the dogs at peoples’ homes, and that we’d do it for free.”
Keech and Barr absorbed all of the up-front costs, including film, processing, enlargements and the framing and matting of the portraits. Their initiative soon paid off. Once the word got around, local residents were calling to have their dogs photographed for the show.
“There was a tremendous amount of excitement,” Keech says. “People were calling right up to the last minute. Some came up to me and asked, ‘Now, when are you going to do cats?'”
The Shepherdstown Canine Project may benefit Keech and Barr’s business, Wild Spirit Photography, because the 2002 event generated a lot of attention and buzz in the community. More important to Keech, however, is the fact that nearly half of the 117 portraits on display featured rescued dogs, animals who proved to be loving companions because someone gave them a second chance.
“There are a lot of missed opportunities out there for people looking for animals to bring into their homes,” Keech says, “This show is a testament to the fact that a rescue dog, whether she’s a puppy or a senior citizen, can adjust to a different home.”
Representatives from the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County and Spay Today say that what makes the event unique is the fact that Keech and Barr came to them with a ready-made opportunity to raise funds and educate the public about their respective causes. That’s something businesses don’t often do on their own initiative.
“They came to us, and we usually have to pound the pavement to do fund-raisers and get people involved,” says Jane Tarner, vice president of the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County. “When somebody actually comes to you and says, ‘We want to do this for you,’ you’re absolutely thrilled.”
At the conclusion of the event, the dogs’ human companions had an opportunity to buy the portraits of their canine friends, and funds were raised with the raffle of two of Barr’s wildlife photographs. The Shepherdstown Canine Project raised approximately $600 its first year, but according to Anne Small, a cofounder of Spay Today, its value in raising public awareness is far more difficult to quantify. “The mission of our organization depends on spreading the word that spaying and neutering cats and dogs spares the killing of unwanted animals. I believe that the indirect benefits from publicity are as important as the monetary contributions,” says Small.
As it turns out, Shepherdstown was an ideal venue for the first canine portrait show.
Charles and Claire Redden, two pet owners who have six adopted dogs and three cats, note that members of the founding family of Shepherdstown had a special relationship with dogs.
“Shepherd and his wife had a dog, and they had an expense account for him to have an ice cream cone from the pharmacy whenever he walked in,” says Claire.
“Most of these people are true animal lovers,” Charles says. “This is a unique little town.”
Shepherdstown residents were especially receptive to the canine photo project, but Keech expressed hope that the event will serve as an example for businesses and communities around the country.
“It works really well here because Shepherdstown is such a great town, but I think it could be just as successful in other communities. It can be a model to raise awareness and money for many animal welfare organizations.”
The next project for Keech and Barr was to produce a canine calendar, featuring 12 of the dog portraits that were included in the show. The calendar went on sale last fall, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit local animal welfare organizations. Barr added that they would continue to use their business as a means to help animal welfare organizations raise funds.
“People who care about animal welfare need to educate other people, and our photography can do that,” Barr says. “This is kind of the focus of our business: trying to help nonprofits raise funds.”
Andy McDonald is a writer and columnist in Berea, Kentucky.
© 2003 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Spring 2003
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