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pets

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Can a Fish and a Cat Live in the Same Apartment?

October 1, 2014

Valerie

Product: No Clean Aquarium

Research:
My roommate has been talking about getting a fish for months, but we haven’t had great luck with fish in the past. The first obstacle is our cat, Jack, known to eat a fish or two – and we all have hectic schedules that are not conducive to anything that requires a lot of maintenance (like a traditional aquarium).

Hypothesis:
Described as “Fish Without Fuss” I think the No Clean Aquarium will be a great fit for our apartment. The aquarium is supposed to self-clean, all without batteries or electricity, and most importantly, without a huge time commitment or a need to remove the fish from his environment. We’ll enjoy a new fish addition, Jack will keep out, and maintaining the little guy will be stress free (for the humans and the fish).

Experiment:
I obtained the aquarium and got some rocks for the bottom. My roommate was in charge of getting the fish and a plant. It’s important to note that the No Clean Aquarium is approved only for betta fish. We made plans to set it all up on a night when we’d both get home around the same time. The betta fish was double-bagged from the pet store, and the first thing we did was float the fish bag in a pitcher of water to get the fish acclimated to the temperature. While he hung out in there, we followed the instructions to set up his new environment.

No Clean Aquarium

Setting it all up couldn’t be simpler! The aquarium came with instructions and a diagram, but without any pumps or cords it was really easy. First, we had to rinse all the pieces with water – no soap! The pieces can fit together only one way, keeping confusion to a minimum.

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The instructions recommend using twisty ties to anchor your plants to the mesh piece that sits in the bottom of the aquarium.

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By now the fish had enough time to get used to the temperature of the water, so we poured the water from the pitcher into the aquarium and then added the fish. He looked great inside! We gave him some fish food and watched him explore his new home. We also decided on a fitting fish name – Leonard.

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Jack became immediately jealous and tried to push the aquarium off the counter, so we had to reconsider its location. We moved Leonard to a safer table and surrounded him with objects. There is a cover on top of the aquarium, and we were pretty confident Jack would not be able to stick his paws inside! He spent the rest of the evening sulking.

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A week went by, and it was time to change the water. We made sure the temperature was just right and poured the clean water in slowly. Sure enough water from the bottom came up through the tube, and emptied into the pitcher. It was definitely filthy water.

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Conclusion:
So far, everything is working out as we expected it to – changing Leonard’s water is easy, and he doesn’t seem to mind. We came up with a system to keep track of when Leonard’s been fed – blue card means he ate at night, and yellow card means he ate in the morning. If one of us gets home at night and sees the yellow card, it’s time to feed the fish!

And Jack, well he can’t get into the aquarium. But he did manage to knock it over once. Fortunately, my roommate heard the commotion and was able to rescue Leonard and get everything assembled again in no time. Nothing broke! So, while it’s not completely cat proof, it is still about the most successful aquarium we’ve ever had.

Design

Creative Design to the Rescue! (Of Homeless Cats)

March 7, 2014

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My cat Eddie thinking about cats who lack a nice warm bed like his

If you love cats–as we do–it’s painful to think of them having to brave the elements on their own during a freezing northern winter, especially this year. But here in New York City, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cats have no shelter. So, if you also love creative design, and believe in its potential as a force for good–as we do–it’s nice to learn about Architects for Animals’ “Giving Shelter,” a yearly funds-and awareness-raising initiative founded by animal lover Leslie Farrell.

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“CatHaus” by Francis Cauffman Architects was voted the favorite of the 2014 attendees

Since 2010, every year, Farrell, Director of Client Development at architecture firm Francis Cauffman, has convinced a handful of top-notch architectural design firms to design, build and donate innovative outdoor winter shelters for homeless cats. Their creations are put on public display as a one-night benefit event for the Mayor’s Alliance for NewYork City’s Animals. Attendees vote for their favorite, then all the shelters are donated to caregivers who work with needy animals.

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“Cat Hive” by Incorporated Architecture & Design

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by Carlton Architecture PC

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“Time Machine for Kittens,” by Two One Two Design

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“Hairball,” by M Moser Associates

The creative designs of these shelters help the cause architecturally (they generate good ideas for future shelters) and in other ways, too, as Michael Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance, points out. “The media coverage with pictures of the flashy shelters is an eye-catcher that many people examine with interest, whereas they will skip over an article about the plight of cats abandoned to the streets through no fault of their own.”

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Homeless cat in Brooklyn (rescued and adopted a few days after this photo was taken)

Nobody knows how many homeless cats there are in NYC, but estimates range from tens of thousands up to a million. Most of them are scared of us, so they keep out of sight, which makes counting them difficult. While people often think of cats as natural loners, they actually tend to form colonies near food sources such as garbage bins near apartment buildings. Some feral moms could very well be teaching their kittens to scrounge your leftovers as you sleep. (I’ve witnessed this, a sight both adorable and sad.)

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African Wild Cat at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa. Photo: Sonelle

These felines are all trying to survive in what, for them, is an unnatural habitat. It’s not just that it’s so urban and industrial, but also that they’re not native to this part of the world. All of the world’s domestic cats are descended from a type of wildcat that lives in the deserts of the Near East. These cats are not designed to live in the NYC climate; those pretty fur coats are not enough protection during the winter, no matter how thick they get.

They need our help, especially as it’s humans’ fault that they’re out there in the first place. This population is made up of of strays, who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats (some of whom have regressed to a not-so-tame state), and ferals, the essentially wild (that is, not socialized to humans) offspring and descendants of non-neutered strays and pets who were allowed to roam. They have neither a consistent and healthy food source, nor shelter from the elements, nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel humans.

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New York Feral Cat Initiative logo

Fortunately, there are many (though never enough) animal-lovers all over NYC who work hard to rescue tame, adoptable cats and kittens, and feed and protect the ferals. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters whose joint mission is “to raise awareness about the thousands of… community cats living outdoors throughout NYC’s five boroughs, to offer solutions to prevent the number of homeless cats from increasing, and to successfully manage existing colonies.”

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Standard outdoor cat winter shelter design by Ashot Karamian

Building shelters that enable these critters to avoid freezing misery or death during inclement weather is part of the last part, managing colonies. (To read about solutions to prevent increases in the number of homeless cats, start here.) Of course, it’s not really necessary to build shelters that are more than just functional. As far as we know, cats aren’t offended by a styrofoam-and-duct-tape aesthetic. Phillips described the minimal structural guidelines as follows: “No heavier than two people can lift easily. Inner space should be no higher than 16 inches to retain the body heat of the cats with room for straw bedding.Waterproof. Constructed with weatherproof construction materials.” He added, “Water is the most destructive force. Snow does not normally damage shelters or enter shelters in comparison to driving rain or flooding.”

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Rubbermaid container cat shelter by by Ashot Karamian (photo by Ashot Karmanian used with permission)

“You could use a basic Rubbermaid container for a cat shelter, which is quite common and perfectly fine because it works,” says architect Sofia Zimmerman, who, along with her husband and business partner, Adam, has participated in Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter three years in a row. “But as designers,”she continues, “we love the idea of someone walking down the street and coming across something that is artful, unusual, or even beautiful. Cat shelters are often found in alleyways, parking lots, and other places where finding something delightful is rare. But here’s a chance to do something nice looking–for the cats, their caregivers, and the people that might catch a glimpse.”

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by Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design

“This third one, that we did this year, is perhaps the simplest, but in many ways our favorite. It was all about upcycling. We re-used a cardboard box and sealed it with duct tape. Inside, we lined it with styrofoam that came as packaging material for a lamp. And then we had to add another layer of insulation. This was the chance to do something delightful! We collected nine pairs of old jeans, cut them into long strips, and created a very very long braid. We wrapped it around and around the box, using as inspiration braided rag rugs–the ones you see in storybooks all the time with cats curled up on them!”

She adds that “During that process, we actually learned about the environmental impact associated with creating a pair of jeans….don’t get us started!”

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“Fiberglass Pod,” by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki, co-founders of MishMish, an example of a structure built with camouflage in mind

Different situations may call for specific architectural strategies. Phillips describes varying and “colony needs,” such as “camouflage; difficult specific dimensions to fit an exact spot; or fitting in visually with the design of a building nearby to please a particular property owner willing but not thrilled to have shelters placed on his property.”

If you want to help feral cats where you live, Phillips says, “Offering of your time to assist a local caretaker in your neighborhood is the best way to contribute to the long-term welfare of a community cat colony. The more widespread the support in a neighborhood the more likely the cats will accepted. Volunteering to feed the colony one or more days a week is a great help, when so often only one or two people shoulder the care for an entire colony.“

Or, if you’re crafty and love the idea of experimenting with small-scale architectural design that will actually be used, here’s your chance to do it, fur real! (sorry…)

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Above three photos: “Feral Vernacular” by deSoto studio architecture + design

All photos copyright Marisa Bowe, unless otherwise indicated.

Maker Stories

Love Letters from Your Pet by Karen Jones

July 9, 2013

Usually when it comes to design challenges, we adhere to the rules. (Mostly because I’m a relentless stickler!) But every once and a while a submission comes along that makes you think twice. Our Art Contest is usually call for a digital rendering of a piece of art that we will reproduce and sell framed. However, Karen Jones entered a piece that wouldn’t fit that model. She entered her Love Letter Custom Pet Portraits that are oil paintings on a piece of steel of your beloved canine or feline, with a little note expressing their love to you. Since each piece is made to order, we wouldn’t be able to print and frame the paintings but the call was for art and that is exactly what Karen sent us. She also must have known we have a soft spot for our pets.

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I have a twin brother who is an artist also. On the surface we are not the same, he is a tall red headed cowboy and I am a short, high heeled, glitter loving city dweller. We were born artists and luckily enough had great art teachers when we were growing up in Arizona. We were in a lot of the same art classes in school which was fun because I always had a painting buddy. I still like to paint with other people around me, but that doesn’t happen anymore. I had to learn to love to be alone with my art. Now I look forward to being alone with just me and my art. Well, sort of alone. I paint with my dog, Ruby next to me.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
Last week. Funny, but I think we as artist have an internal idea of what being an artist is. I was an artist to the outside world since kindergarten. Art was always fairly easy for me. Awards, lots of art classes, going to art school… none of those made me feel like I was an artist. Three years ago, I became a full time, money making artist. That didn’t even make me feel like an artist.

When I started painting from my heart and giving more of myself and accomplishing paintings that I felt were ‘hard to do’ or challenging and I did it… that’s when I realized I was an artist.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
Everywhere. I try not to walk through life with too much singular focus. I am always looking around, letting things grab my attention. I look at other people art, that can often trigger an idea in myself. I love to travel, ideas often come to me while driving down the road. I look for things to spark my interest and then process them through the mill of my mind, letting the idea develop a little before making it real. I’ve started writing down ideas I have in the middle of the night but that doesn’t work. I wake up wondering what, ‘I’m human in pink chalk’ means.

Describe your artistic process.
On Sunday nights, I get my canvases for the week ready. I paint on steel, so I get my steel ready. I get the image drawn on, make sure I have a photo printed to work from and enough paint.

Then on Monday morning, after coffee, a little time on the internet and a load of laundry, I head to the studio in my house. I put a ’70s tv program like, ‘Hawaii Five-O’ on and start painting. Once I get started, I sort of go in a zone and before I know it, it’s 4pm and time to get on the treadmill and make dinner. To me setting up my environment so I am not distracted and able to go into the zone is key. My focus stays clear and singularly focused. Sometimes when I need more emotion in my painting, I put on loud love music or on Fridays, Disco.

Describe your work space.
Today my studio is my 1968 vintage Airstream. We love going places, so sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to paint while on the road.

Normally, I paint in my studio at home. My house is very modern and open. My studio is on the second floor with a big oval window with a nice view and good light. My studio isn’t big and is oddly for an artist, very clean. The only things in my studio are my painting easel, my paint table, a table for the computer so I can watch ’70s tv and a big chair and ottoman for me to sit back and ponder over what I need to do the painting. Only the things I need, nothing more. It keeps my mind uncluttered.

And of course, my dog, Ruby. She stairs at me while I paint.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Enter. You never know unless you try. Use your already developed support group of friends, family and customers and ask them every day to vote for you. Use social media and don’t worry about bugging people. They want to support you, let them.

Maker Stories

MG Stout on Moving, Staying Motivated & Making Art

June 24, 2013

Artist Mary Gallagher Stout (Also known as MG Stout) not only captures animals’ unique personalities though her stylized pet portraits, but also conveys a bit of her own personality though each of these soulful pieces, which seem to be dripping with warmth and emotion.

Mary admits that she’s faced some challenges on her way to becoming a professional artist, and she graciously spoke candidly with me about discovering her passion for art, using her work to promote social change, and making the decision to transition to a new studio space in order to put her paintings in prime public view.

You mentioned in your UncommonGoods artist bio that you studied philosophy in school. How did a philosophy degree turn into a career in art?
Here are the cliff notes-I never felt like I was good at anything. I doodled privately and I studied philosophy because I wanted to learn how to think. My ambition was to become a professor. University life seemed to suit me. After I received my BA, I applied to a few graduate programs and moved to RI with my fiance. The following year brought a wedding, a new baby and a severe case of postpartum depression. The love of my family and ART saved me.

What the what? Art saved you? How so? Among the laundry list of psychological issues from which I suffered, and there were many, I became agoraphobic. I was terrified to leave my house, and heaven forbid it should rain–I’d cry all day. *I was a delight to be around.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law knew that I wanted to paint the sanitarium white walls of my home and suggested that I grab a brush. I painted practically every surface in the house. I did murals, faux finishes and furniture. I think I even painted a few shades! To my surprise, people were really impressed with my work. When my faculties returned and the anxiety passed I started a decorative painting business and have been painting ever since.

*My company actually was the opposite of delightful.


What lead you to start painting animals? How did the custom aspect come into play?
I used animal imagery as an analogy to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the arts and art programming. Endangered species, the environment, and the arts need community support to thrive and flourish. The National Endowment for the Arts budget is the first to be cut when funding is being dispersed. I wanted to demonstrate how art impacts and enriches our lives and so I co-produced a free community event at the Workhouse Arts Center called ART OUT LOUD- a fusion of art and music.

I painted my first pet portrait in honor of my cousin’s dog, Mattie, who passed away unexpectedly. She was old, but seemingly healthy. The whole family was so upset and I wanted to celebrate the life of an amazing dog. I worked on the piece in my studio, which is a public space, and started getting orders and requests from visitors. I knew then that I was onto something.

How many pets do you own? Do they spend much time in your studio?
I had two dogs. Champ died of bone cancer last year and nearly broke my heart. Scottie is 15 years young and while his skin is much looser, he is a sweetie pie. Neither spent time in my studio because they like to misbehave when they are not home.

Would you consider your studio an extension of your home, or do you prefer to keep work and your personal space separate?
My husband prefers that I keep my studio work separate as I seem to get paint everywhere!

How did you know it was time to transition to a new studio space?
I set professional goals for myself and made a 5 year plan. I juried into the Workhouse Arts Center and became a full-time studio artist. I spent the months before I moved into my studio in VCU’s [Virginia Commonwealth University] Summer Studio Graduate Residency Program there. It was intense and kicked my ass into gear. I signed a 3 year lease and dedicated that time to finding my voice. I gave myself permission to paint a lot of crap. As a decorative painter, lacking a fine art degree, I felt like a big phony baloney. So I painted a bunch of introspective stuff and experimented with various media. I had my aha moment when I started my *REAL Life Drawing series. Pastel on newspaper! Drawing my observations of the city. I found my groove.

Year 4 was about making sellable artwork. Yikes! Did I just speak of money? Heck yeah I did. Artists have bills that need to be paid too. As a professional artist you need to have work that pays the bills so that you can afford a studio to make art just for art’s sake. The problem with my old studio was that I was making decent work, but nobody was seeing it. Truth be told, most of my sales happened off site. It just seemed logical to move.

*Sunbury Press published my DC inspired artworks in a book titled REAL Life Drawing, My Eye on Washington DC, by Mary Gallagher Stout

What do you look for in a studio space?
The first concern is location. Is it metro accessible? My atelier needs to be in a place that people can get to by hopping on a bus, train, trolley, or bike. The studio also needs to have good lighting, and enough space for to be divided into a workroom and gallery. Finally I need to be able to have 24-hour access. One can’t ever be certain when a thunder-bolt of creativity may strike!


What was the last thing you packed? What was the first thing you unpacked when you got to your new space?

It was the same thing- my paint palette.

How far is your new studio from your old? Did you have to move all of your supplies and works in progress a great distance?
I’ve added about 20 miles to my drive so it is a bit of a hike, but completely worth it. Old Town Alexandria is a destination. This town is buzzing with art enthusiasts, and animal lovers! The marina is literally one block from my new spot and there are dozens of local eateries and shops.

I’m in heaven. I share this space with two other prolific professional artists, John Gascot and Gina Cochran. We make a great team. We inspire and support each other and are eager to produce community-centric exhibitions and creative workshops.