Art and Activism

I don’t refer to myself as an artist. When I was much younger I wanted to be “an artist”, yes, but as I have worked in the arts for many years now I have realized that a lot of the game of becoming a “successful” artist is knowing how to market yourself. And that’s the rub. I have no desire to develop that side of my personality. But I do love to draw still.

Our first group meeting of activist-artists.

We recently started an art group at Direct Action Everywhere, and I was amazed at the wonderful artists in the group. It’s an honor to have been included.


Here is an artist statment I wrote not long ago when I was approached by art group organizer Leslie Robinson Goldberg, aka the Vicious Vegan of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) about a series profiling activist-artists.

Artist Statement

Genevieve Cottraux

As a shy and anxious kid, drawing and animals were two of the ways I connected to the world. My mother was always very tolerant about taking in the strays that my siblings and I brought home. At one point, we had 4 dogs and 7 cats sharing the house with Mom and the 4 of us. I drew a lot of pictures of cats, needless to say.

In college getting my design degree, drawing classes were always my favorite. My first job out of college was as an archaeological illustrator with a company in Sacramento, working on environmental impact reports and historic building surveys. After a couple of years, I was being phased out by computer applications, so I went back to school and shifted careers into arts administration. My love of drawing had really suffered, but never my love for animals! By finding a community of artists with the animal activism world, I’ve finally felt inspired to get out my sketchbook.

The project that I am contemplating working on focuses on the animals I meet and love during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. I plan to do a sketch a week, picking the animal that most touches my heart during my shift. I mostly volunteer in the cat adoption area, but I’d love to start including dogs as well. The challenge will be finding the best way to include their stories with the sketches.

I think what bring me back to drawing is the personal connection I feel when I am with the animals at the shelter. My heart is involved, not just my eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. Someone suggested that I offer the shelter animal drawings to the eventual adopters of the animals, and I really like that idea, if I can bring myself to part with them!

I went through all of the work I have accumulated over the years, and was surprised at how little of it involved animals. I included an older piece (the endangered Smith’s Blue in the DxE blogpost, link below) because it is a drawing I am still happy with years later and it was one of the rare chances I had as an illustrator to draw something that made me feel like I was doing something important (plus it made me happy).

1. Smiths blue
Smith’s Blue, my rendering


Smith’s Blue, the real deal

The other 4 drawings, all unfinished, I included are of animals I recently spent time with at the The East Bay SPCA, the wonderful shelter where I have volunteered sine 2009. I plan to keep doing a sketch every time I go to the shelter, focusing on the animal that day who most tugs at my heart.

Logo 2.jpg


Check out the DxE blog, The Liberationist, for many interesting and thought-provoking articles, such as this one by the amazing Kitty Jones: Five Things Animals Would Say If They Could. Here is a link to the post with my drawings: Art and Animals: Genevieve Cottraux

Tofurkey, the sad-eyed chihuahua mix, has since been adopted! Yay, Tofurkey!  I can’t decide if I hope they changed her name or not.

5. Tofurkey
Tofurkey (unfinished drawing)

I started a new piece last night, of my newest foster kitten Babou. He is the sweetest, funniest little guy. He makes me laugh and I know he will find a wonderful forever home, thanks to the East Bay SPCA.


Mouse’s Kittens–Ready for Their Debut, or, They Leave the Foster Nest

Today was weigh-in for the foster kittens; got them bundled into the carrier and over to the East Bay SPCA, where the wonderful Mimi put them on the scales to see if each was at the 2 pound benchmark for spay/neuter and the adoption floor!

We don't like this carrier thing.
We don’t like this carrier thing.

Last night all 4 of them got to take a field trip into Bob’s big office room, where they ran and played and caused general mayhem. They had been going in one at a time for a chance to have some “me” time, but this time it was kitten party!

Sugar Glider checks things out
Sugar Glider checks things out
Ratticus tries to hide under the piano in order to launch a strike on his brother
Ratticus tries to hide under the piano in order to launch a strike on his brother
Ferret's not so sure she wants to leave the sofa
Ferret’s not so sure she wants to leave the sofa
Maybe the cabinet is a little too high up for little Chinchilla
Maybe the cabinet is a little too high up for little Chinchilla
Or maybe not
Or maybe not

I spent a little time with them this morning before taking them down to see Mimi. It was hard to make myself get going; I could spend hours in my pajamas sitting on the floor playing with kittens. And some day maybe I will have time to with another litter of kittens. But for now, maybe I will get some studying done!

The brothers in a peaceful moment
The brothers in a peaceful moment
Handsome Ratticus
Handsome Ratticus
Gotta get up to 2 pounds!
Gotta get up to 2 pounds!
Chinchilla adores the crinkle tube
Chinchilla adores the crinkle tube
Sugar Glider, looking so grown up
Sugar Glider, looking so grown up

Here we go, weigh-in!

2.1 lbs
2.1 pounds
Just over 2 lbs, the littlest makes it!
Just over 2 pounds, the littlest makes it!
2.4 pounds
2.5 pounds!
Ratticus wouldn't sit still but he was somewhere around the 2.5 pound mark.
Ratticus wouldn’t sit still but he was somewhere around the 2.5 pound mark.

I’m really going to miss them but they are all 4 wonderful cats with their individual, quirky personalities. I know they will all find wonderful homes! Thank you to Robert Ward for letting me fill the house with kittens! And thank you to everyone at the East Bay SPCA for working tirelessly to find homes for cats and dogs in our community. Adopt a shelter pet!

Kitten Chronicles–7 weeks old!

Wow, the foster kittens have become exhaustingly active in the last couple of weeks! They are quite a handful (two handsful at this point). Mother Mouse went back to the East Bay SPCA to start getting ready to find her forever home. It sounds sad to separate her from the kittens, but believe me, she was ready! And they have been fine. In fact, little Chinchilla, the mama’s girl, has become much less shy and more adventurous. We miss Mouse, of course, and I will check on her progress at the SPCA to make sure she’s doing well.

Sweet mother mouse with Chinchilla
Sweet mother Mouse with Chinchilla

The 4 little rascals will be with us for at least another week; they have to be at least 8 weeks old and weigh 2 pounds each before they can enter the adoption process. I think Ratticus will for sure hit the weight target; he is the biggest (and turning into a little bit of a bully!).

Ratticus, King of the Kitten Kingdom
Ratticus, King of the Kitten Kingdom

Sugar Glider isn’t too far behind. He’s a little mellower than his brother, and the one who inherited his mama’s sweet loud purr. He’s also a lap cat in the making. And who doesn’t love an orange tabby?

Sugar Glider, loves the crinkle tube
Sugar Glider, loves the crinkle tube

Miss Ferret is the one who looks most like her mama Mouse; a slightly exotic face and lean and lanky. Also very proud like her mama. But she can keep up with her crazy brothers, too!

Ferret, the belle of the ball
Ferret, the belle of the ball

And last, but never least (I am the youngest of 4 human siblings, so I identify with her) is Chinchilla, finally catching up size-wise and blossoming into an acrobat but still a bit of a loner.

Chinchilla, loves a good shoe box
Chinchilla, loves a good shoe box

Like all sisters, Ferret and Chinchilla love a good get together, usually involving towels. They are growing up in the guest bathroom, so maybe that makes sense!

Fun with towels
Fun with towels
Chinchilla in her corner
Chinchilla in her corner
Ferret, having second thoughts
Ferret, having second thoughts

And of course, boys will be boys.

Crinkle tube fight!
Crinkle tube fight!

It’s getting hard to get all 4 in 1 picture; here is today’s best effort.

Kitten mayhem!
Kitten mayhem!

In another week, we will see if they are ready for the next stage in getting their forever familes. Update to come!

Kitten Chronicles, part 3

First, an update on Abracadabra, my first foster after a 17-year absence from the fostering world. When I was at the shelter last Saturday she hadn’t been adopted. There were so many kittens to choose from and she just kept getting overlooked. I was taking it personally, which is silly of course. But when I went in for my volunteer shift today I got the good news that she went home with her new “dad” yesterday. He wanted a playful and adventurous kitten, and he got one! Have a great life together!


Mouse and her bablies are doing great. She’s such a sweet cat and a good mother. She likes some love and attention too, and moms deserve that.

Mom 4 Mom 1 Mom 2

The little ones are growing and moving around the nursery a lot more, and I can hear them mewing from other parts of the house as their voices gain strength.

4 in a box

Here is 15 day old Sugar Glider:


Ferrett (I know it should be Ferret with one “t” but I didn’t do the names):




And last, but not least, Ratticus:


Meanwhile, the resident pets don’t seem particularly impressed!

IMG_6715 IMG_4851 Einstein

It’s all a great distraction and tool for procrastination from studying over this 3-day weekend. I have what I need to do laid out like a battle plan. Tomorrow I go forth!

IMG_5507 IMG_5506

International Cat Day, volunteering with an animal shelter

Happy International Cat Day! I don’t know who decides these things, and it’s always cat day in my world, but today we celebrate cats.

I have been volunteering at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California since 2009. It was a time of much personal turmoil. My mother had just passed away after a battle with cancer; I had been spending much of my time up in Sacramento with her and I suddenly felt like I had way too much time on my hands when she was gone. I had been thinking of volunteering for a while, either in a library setting or doing something with animals. We were at the yearly Solano Stroll street fair in Berkeley and a friendly volunteer at the East Bay SPCA’s booth handed me a flyer; it seemed like a sign. It’s been almost 6 years ago that I went to a volunteer orientation and it’s the best decision I ever made!

front volunteer

I started as a cat socializer, and over time have trained as a canine companion (dog walker), adoption counselor, volunteer mentor, lead off-site event volunteer, co-taught the cat volunteer training, and am now a customer care volunteer. I spend my Saturdays helping people coming in to find their match (both cats and dogs) and facilitate the adoption process. And when it’s slow, I still socialize with the kitties and pups.

Today, for International Cat Day, I’m taking a look at a typical Saturday with the cats at the shelter. The East Bay SPCA was founded in 1874 and as an independent nonprofit is not affiliated with any other SPCA. With adoption centers, education centers, spay/neuter centers in both Oakland and Dublin and a full-service veterinary clinic in Oakland, the EBSPCA currently utilizes the services of about 375 volunteers.

Today when I arrived at the Oakland adoption center, there were 31 cats available for adoption and many more in the back holding area awaiting behavior and/or health checks and other procedures before being moved up to one of the two the adoption centers. The cat adoption area is bright and cheerful, having undergone a remodeling in the last couple of years. There is a hallway showcasing individual cats, currently mostly kittens, as well as 3 colony rooms where cats who get along live in groups, plus 2 “get acquainted” rooms for potential adopters to meet cats up close and personal.

cool cooler coolest colony 1 get acquainted

I first visited the holding area, off-limits to the public, to meet the new arrivals. My friend Judy volunteers in the back and always directs me to the cutest newbie of the day. It being kitten season, there were many adorable faces! Tiny but vocal Francine, 8 weeks old and underweight, really wanted attention. Her siblings Fanny and French Fry, in the next cage, were a little quieter but just as cute. Pretty Iris, recovering from the double whammy of spay surgery and having an infected eye removed, was still happy to have a tummy run and a neck scritch where the cone was bugging her.

Francine Fanny and French Fry Iris

Up in the adoption center, spunky kitten Antelope was not slowed down by having 3 legs instead of 4, eagerly exploring and asking for head rubs.


Of course, it’s not all kittens. Kittens are adopted pretty quickly. It’s the older cats who often wait at the shelter for longer to find homes. And sadly, black cats and black and white cats wait the longest. Even with kittens, the black kittens spend a little longer than the others. Black cats are not bad luck; give them a chance! Here is 8-year old Bloomer exercising patience with roommate 4-month old Ricky Bobby in one of the colonies.

Bloomer and Ricky Bobby

The oldest cat I visited today was 10 year old Norwegian Forest cat Tikka. She had lived with her family since she was a kitten but she didn’t get along with a new cat they brought into the home so she was surrendered to the shelter for adoption. A little shy but sweet and oh so beautiful, she needs a quiet home where she can be the only princess cat.


John Snow has been at the shelter since April. He’s quite the charming gentleman, and his Bengal roots mean he is active and playful. He was adopted during his stay at the shelter but returned because like Tikka, he needs to be an only cat.

John Snow

Six-year old Ma’am, brought in as a stray, doesn’t think much of my taking her picture to become a media star.


When I left after my 4-hour shift, 3 kittens had been adopted, 3 had been placed on hold, and 2 adult kitties, Poptart (surrendered because of a new baby in the home) and Aspen (surrendered because the landlord was asking for an increased pet deposit) were in the process of being adopted. Yay Poptart and Aspen!

Poptart Aspen

It was dinner time, so everyone was happy. Here is Sweet Pea enjoying her meal.

Sweet Pea

If any of these sweet faces grab at your heartstrings, next Saturday, August 15, is the Clear the Shelters event, with help from and NBC, with free adoptions from 10-4. Come on by!

Clear - Version 2