(STRAY CATS/ANIMAL ACTIVISM/OP-ED) Photographers for Animals husband and wife team Jason and Elizabeth Putsche document the mysterious lives of a commonly misunderstood and scrutinized animal, the feral cat. The Community Cat Project’s “glamour shots” offer a new view of community cats, showing them thriving in their natural environments.
Read Elizabeth’s story on how she and her husband began photographing community cats all across the globe in the article below. — Global Animal
By Elizabeth Putsche
I picked up his business card at an art show. Jason Putsche’s photography display at the Baltimore Fells Point Festival was diverse, but among thirty or so pieces displayed, two featured outdoor cats. As an avid animal advocate working specifically on community cat issues, I knew the subject matter wasn’t typical. Cats can be difficult to photograph—especially those who choose to keep their distance from people. I made a mental note to email Jason the following week.
Community cats—sometimes called feral cats—get a bad rap. They have an image problem. And as the communications manager for Alley Cat Allies, a national nonprofit dedicated to the protection of cats, part of my job was correcting any generally held misperceptions.
What I needed were glamour shots of cats, showing them thriving in their natural surroundings. To be able to counter the public perception I needed proof—and I thought Jason might be just the guy to get it for me.
I knew a lot of people who cared for cats—feeding and providing water for them, and in most cases humanely trapping them to be neutered and vaccinated before they were returned to their outdoor home. But though these caregivers had mountains of compassion, they lacked the basic abilities to use a camera. Enter Jason.
After a brief explanation, I connected Jason with a few caregivers in the Baltimore area, so that he could accompany them during “feeding time.” This would provide the best chance of him seeing any cats.
The results were as good as I had suspected.
Alley Cat Allies began using Jason’s photos regularly—which meant we needed more. We worked together closely—eventually started dating—and are now married. For more than five years we have been photographing community cats, across the country and around the world.
We have seen cats in every circumstance and setting. The rural farm lands of Pennsylvania, the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, to the coast of California. We’ve been to police stations, ports, behind grocery stores, deep in the woods, on hotel grounds, in alley ways, and more. The only thing more diverse than the settings are the people who care for the cats. Lawyers, nurses, professors, men, women, old and young—they all want to help the cats.
Helping community cats requires a certain amount of restraint. We’re accustomed to our pet cats at home—and what they need. But community cats are very different. They do not want to come in your house, they typically do not want you to touch them either—not even a friendly scratch behind the ear. Though the same species, their upbringing and needs are very different than their indoor counterparts.
Many cities and communities across the country are recognizing the unique needs of community cats and providing equally unique programs to help them. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) has swept the county, starting with individuals, volunteers and small nonprofits, TNR is now even finding its way into some shelters and animal control policies.
There are still many places where animal shelters trap and kill community cats– places that have yet to understand the vicious cycle they have continued for decades, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, and putting a strain on the shelter employees they require to kill healthy animals every day. Just because a cat does not conform to the stereotype of a “lap cat” does not mean she should be killed.
With the Community Cat Project, we are offering a new view of community cats. To show people where they belong—in the community. They are independent, healthy, bonded with their families, and most importantly—alive.
We have too many photos for anyone to argue that the featured cats are isolated incidents. We have seen and photographed thousands of healthy outdoor cats.
We simply ask that people look at the photos and acknowledge that there are cats who don’t fit into the adoption paradigm—but still have a place in our communities.
Elizabeth Putsche is the executive director of Photographers for Animals, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Recognizing the impact and influence imagery can have on an audience to take action, she founded Photographers for Animals to promote animal issues and to help organizations utilize opportunities for photography and film. Learn more at www.photographersforanimals.org