Each day, as we approach Thanksgiving, we will spotlight an animal rescuer who works tirelessly to improve the lives of animals in need. Please join us in giving thanks to these generous, kind, and oh so pawesome folks.
Art can be a powerful way to advocate for animal welfare. For Lesley Marino, that artistic advocacy happens in part through her photography. The Torontonian has photographed Farm Sanctuary events like the 25th anniversary gala, as well as many human-focused causes, but her latest project is decidedly pet-focused.
Lesley is one of several women who make up the Crazy Cat Lady Collective, a Toronto-based group dedicated to advocating for and educating about homeless and feral cats. The CCLC is supported by Culture and Animals Foundation, and itself supports Animal Rescue Krew (ARK) and Greenwood & Gerrard Feral Cat Colony. Lesley and the other women in the collective are furthering those causes by releasing a 2013 calendar, which is now available for preorder; the image above, of her and her cat Pea Soup, is from a calendar shoot. It’s great to see women like Lesley turn the stereotype of the “crazy cat lady” on its head and use it to do some good for feral cats while also educating others about why that matters.
Here’s Lesley on how the CCLC began, what their advocacy is working towards, and why cats are really awesome.
How did the Crazy Cat Lady Collective get started and how did you become involved? How did the calendar project come about and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
It was started by a few women involved in cat rescue work who thought making a calendar would be a fun way to raise funds for organizations that help cats. Between them they knew a number of other cat-loving ladies and asked photojournalist and animal activist, Jo-Anne McArthur, to photograph them. Jo-Anne is a really good friend of mine and asked me if I’d like to be involved to help photograph the ladies and design the calendar itself. I’m also a cat lover and proud to call myself a Crazy Cat Lady. I was happy to contribute to the project and also be included in the calendar.
We hope the calendar will help educate people about the plight of feral and homeless cats and raise some much needed funds for two self-funded cat organisations: Animal Rescue Krew and the Greenwood & Gerrard Feral Cat Colony. We also share cat facts and political and compassionate messages in our bios of ourselves and our cats.
Why was it decided that the group’s name would take back and play on the stereotype of the crazy cat lady?
I think people have a certain negative image that comes to mind when they think of a “crazy cat lady”, not unlike the Crazy Cat Lady character from The Simpsons who is portrayed as a mentally-ill woman surrounded by numerous cats. We want to reclaim that title and break away from these kinds of negative stereotypes and instead associate it with compassion, caring and societal change in relation to nonhuman animals.
Why is the cause of feral and homeless cats important to you?
Growing up, my family had a dog who we got from the Humane Society. I loved our dog, but I didn’t really have the same connection to her as my brother did. I always found cats to be fascinating; I loved their elusive and independent nature. I always knew one day I would have cats of my own. When I was in a position to get my first cat I knew she/he would be from a shelter. There are far too many homeless cats living on the street (an estimated 300,000 in Toronto alone) and I knew it was important for me to help out at least one of them – more if I could have. I got my first cat, Simon, from the Humane Society. It was his second time being there (can you imagine? being there once is bad enough, but twice?!?) and I just had to take him home with me. All too often cats end up on the street or in shelters because people don’t realise how much responsibility it is to look after them. It’s a commitment; but that commitment brings great reward in the form of companionship. It’s such an amazing feeling to win over a feral or homeless cat and have them become someone who is so important in your life – and you in theirs.
Tell us about your own cats!
My husband and I currently have two cats, Pixie and Pea Soup. Pixie is an adorable but feisty gray and white tabby we adopted over 13 years ago from a cat rescue organisation in Waterloo when we were in university. She had been found all alone in a barn crying for her mother. She is very vocal, highly protective of her parents, and super lovable when strangers aren’t around (although no one believes this!). Pea Soup came into our lives about 5 years ago when my friend, Jo-Anne McArthur, rescued her from a busy street in Toronto. Her family at the time decided they no longer wanted to care for her and just put her out on the street to fend for herself. Pea Soup and I fell in love when we met and she’s had a forever home with us ever since. She is almost blind, really loveable, loves to be pet and sticks her tongue out when she is happy.
What do you like most about photographing animals?
I love capturing their unique personalities and their emotions, whether they are playful, shy, coy, silly, cautious, whatever, and making a connection with them when I’m shooting. Nonhuman animals are just as capable as humans are of showing emotion and I think it’s important to capture and share that. I also think it’s important to give issues like the plight of feral and homeless cats or the treatment of factory farmed animals a face for people to connect with. It personalises these issues and hopefully helps people make their own connections with these nonhuman individuals and encourages them to change their behaviour and/or become more involved in making change for the better.
Images: Jo-Anne McArthur and Lesley Marino
There are more to thank!