published Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Fine Art Felines: Art's Meow raises money to spay/neuter feral cats

"Puff," by Meredith Purcell
"Puff," by Meredith Purcell

If you go

What: The Art’s Meow: 1st Annual Celebration of Community Cats fundraiser for Wally’s Friends

Where: Uptown Art at the corner of Cherokee Boulevard and North Market Street

When: Oct. 13, noon to 4 p.m.

Cost: Free

Contact: betsy-alderman@utc.edu

Even tough alley cats need a helping hand.

That's why folks at Wally's Friends and Cat Clinic are partnering for an art-based fundraiser that will not only improve the lives of wild cats -- known as feral cats -- but will also cut down on their reproducing.

"The Art's Meow: 1st Annual Celebration of Community Cats," will raise money for Wally's Friends, the area's low-cost spay and neuter clinic. The event will help fund the clinic's ongoing project of spaying and neutering feral cats, as well as educate area residents about the cats, which live independently in urban areas. Money raised will be used exclusively for feral cat spays and neuters.

"We want to help the community learn about feral cats and how to best serve their needs," said Eileen Price, founder of Wally's Friends, in a news release. "This is a wonderful opportunity to do that."

Regional artists have contributed original and whimsical paintings of cats to sell at the event. Artist Jennifer Smiley says she donated a painting to help support the "Trap, Neuter, Return" process for feral cats.

"I'm an advocate of TNR," she says. "I've trapped at several (cat) colonies in Chattanooga and surrounding areas. I decided to donate a painting to help support the cause. I painted it exclusively for the event. I have several pet cats, two of which were former feral cats. I gain my inspiration for painting from folk art style and my love for animals."

Following the event, the owners of Uptown Art, the location of the fundraiser, will host a painting party for guests. The cost will be $35 per person with $10 donated to the spaying and neutering program. Uptown Art owners Rona Hutchison and Kasie Lindley say it's an ideal way to support a good cause.

During the main event, the art pieces will be available for purchase, Lindley says, then the painting party starts at 4 p.m. The ladies will offer participants step-by-step instructions to complete a painting of a modernistic cat. They say no previous painting skills are required.

"Everyone gets to take their painting home with them," she says.

Veterinarian Marcia Toumayan, who opened the Cat Clinic on Cherokee Boulevard in 2008, says feral cats not only need to be spayed and neutered, they also need other medical treatment.

"Chattanooga has many feral cats, some of whom are in managed colonies, but many of whom are not," she says. "They can lead good lives, and because cats in managed colonies have been spayed or neutered, they form stable groups of non-reproducing cats, all of whom have been given rabies vaccines to help protect them as well as to promote human public health.

"It is standard practice for these cats to have the tip of their left ear surgically removed to help identify them as being part of a managed group and having already been spayed or neutered."

And some feral cats can be domesticated, the veterinarian says.

"One problem with the use of the word 'feral' is that it can become a label that segregates these cats into a fixed category and assumes their status cannot change. In fact, there are many shades of gray along the spectrum of cat temperament and behavior, and cats can move along that spectrum over time. Kittens, especially if caught early, can certainly be socialized to people, and even many older cats can become quite tame, if not even close companions, with time and patience."

Toumayan says the idea for the art fundraiser came from Betsy Alderman, head of the Communications Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who's a cat owner and one of her vet clients.

"My office is decorated with a lot of cat-themed art, much of which is from local artists," Toumayan says. "Both Betsy and I have been cat art collectors for years, so the connection and idea rose quite naturally from the confluence of our love for both cats and art.

"I try to support local causes and businesses wherever I can, and purchasing cat-themed art works from local artists and decorating my clinic with them was a real no-brainer. I want the Cat Clinic to be an enjoyable place for me and my staff to do our work, and being surrounded by beautiful artwork is a part of that enjoyable work environment."

In fact, many of the artists invited to participate in Art's Meow are clients of Toumayan's.

"One of them, Meredith Purcell, has done portraits of some of Betsy's cats," Toumayan says. "We have contacted about 20 artists so far, but the outreach and call for work is still ongoing."

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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