1) Tell us about yourself and why you got into photography.
I am a long-time freelance artist and illustrator. Much of my work has accompanied magazine articles to help bring stories to life. Whether this has been in Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian magazine, or in less recognizable publications, these experiences have allowed me to develop my skill of visual story telling.
Since I was a kid growing up in Indiana, I have had a love of animals. This led me to volunteer for local animal shelters and advocacy organizations where I became an ongoing volunteer for our local Trap Neuter Return (TNR) nonprofit, which supports feral cat colonies and those who care for them. As I ventured out into the field to help caretakers, I noticed the strong bond they had with these strays, or as we call them, “community cats.” And it was evident how the cats relied on, and trusted, their caretakers for daily food, shelter, and companionship.
My work has taken me to some of the most underserved areas of our community where the residents, not unlike the cats they care for, are often overlooked, and misunderstood. Sometimes I wonder who benefits from this cat-caretaker relationship the most: the cat or its human. As an artist, I recognized that this human/animal bond was a story that just begged to be told. So, I grabbed a camera and started to shoot.
2) Project Overview: In one paragraph, summarize your project.
It has long been known that interaction with pets (or companion animals) is good for our health. Research tells us that pets can help lower blood pressure and improve a person’s overall wellbeing. Much of this research has been focused on pets that are owned and cohabite with their humans. Research has not focused on unowned community cats and how they contribute to the improved health of their caretakers.
The goal of my project is to show that both pet owners and those who care for community cats all experience the same health benefits. Physical functions and psychological status improve through a person’s compassion and sense of responsibility for caring for an animal. My hope is to elevate the importance of these often-forgotten felines we call community cats and show that the human/animal bond transcends the notion that an animal must be “owned” to be viewed and valued as a companion animal.
3) In more detail, describe the project and what the intended outcome will be for animals.
Stray and feral cats are some of the most at-risk domesticated animals in America. The most comprehensive data in the United States indicate that nearly 72% of cats that enter animal shelters are killed. For feral or unsocialized cats, the kill rate in shelters increases to virtually 100%. Municipal shelters simply do not have the resources to support or save the overwhelming numbers of cats that are brought to the shelter doors every day. Unowned, stray feral and community cats are the exact same species as their family-owned counterparts, they just never had the good fortune of ending up with a loving family. Still, they deserve to be treated with care and compassion, and to not simply be discarded.
If left to their own devices, community cats live in an endless cycle of breeding and scavenging for food. It is important that they become part of a structured trap-neuter-return program that improves their lives on the streets while also decreasing overpopulation.
My objective is to show that community cats, while most often not suitable for indoor family living, can still have happy lives as part of supervised colonies, which they consider their families. They can also give their caretakers a sense of responsibility and provide ongoing love and appreciation.
4) What research was done for this project?
I have worked with Indy Neighborhood Cats, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization specializing in Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). In recent years I have helped caretakers of unowned community cats navigate the TNR process. I have had the pleasure of working in many different neighborhoods that represent highly diverse socioeconomic areas of our city. Although most of the cats I encounter are unsocialized to people, they, and the people who care for them, often develop as strong of bonds as many traditional pet/pet owner relationships.
5) Why is this story important to you?
Every living being deserves a chance. Community cats often are misunderstood as being nuisances and wild, disease-carrying animals. In actuality, they are simply kittens born to stray cats that are taught to fend for themselves in a world that doesn’t always appreciate them. While it is vitally important for community cats to be spayed and neutered, it is also vitally important for them to have opportunities to just be cats: to play, to have food and shelter, and to give and receive unconditional love and affection
6) What was the outcome from this project? (Include Media links or social media links for the project)
The basis of this photography project is simply to educate and build awareness. I want to foster an understanding of the need for compassion and respect for people, animals, and the environment, while also recognizing the interdependence of all living things. Some of the images you will see were used in a limited edition, self-published book to showcase the work of Indy Neighborhood Cats. The book was given to donors of the nonprofit organization to thank them for their support. Sample spreads of the layout of the book may be seen on my website: https://robday.com/human-animal-bond-project
7) What challenges did you face while working on this project?
Assisting the caretakers of community cats throughout the TNR process can be hard, physical work that requires transporting specialized gear. Carrying additional camera equipment simply is not an option. The smallest, most portable cameras were the most practical for this project and had to suffice. The images were captured using a compact Sony a6500 mirrorless camera and the iPhone 13 Pro.
8) What realizations did you have from working on this project?
I have enjoyed a long and rewarding career as a commercial illustrator. My work on this project helped me realize that I can use my skills for the greater good. I enjoy knowing that I have helped increase awareness of issues that affect animal advocacy organizations, and, in this case, have helped foster support for our community’s forgotten felines. I’ve also learned that animal welfare work sometimes means helping people as much as it means helping animals.
The International Society of Animal Photographers is proud to be a COMMUNITY NETWORK PARTNER (Affiliate) of the Professional Photographers of America.
Copyright © 2021-2024 International Society of Animal Photographers - All Rights Reserved.