If you’ve ever read the cartoon section of a major newspaper, you’ve surely come across the antics of Earl and Mooch. This dog and cat duo are the stars of MUTTS Comics (www.muttscomics.com), created by Patrick McDonnell. Pet owners everywhere can identify with some of the mischief these two get into, but McDonnell also tells a deeper story of compassion, adoption, environmentalism, and animal advocacy. Read our interview with McDonnell below to find out how this artist is improving the lives of animals one comic strip at a time.
What inspired the initial creation of MUTTS?
I had wanted to be a cartoonist for as long as I can remember, and MUTTS is a combination of my love for animals and my love for the comic strip as an art form. I started my career as an illustrator and would often draw a little generic dog in my artwork which, I was told, was a Jack Russell Terrier. So when I was able to finally get my own dog, I looked for one that was similar to the character I drew. The dog I found was named Earl, and the joy he gave me and the love I had for him inspired MUTTS. I thought that he could have a cat living next door but I had no foresight that the cat, Mooch, would take over the strip.
Do the MUTTS characters reflect your own pets? Do they mimic the relationships shared by the characters in the comics?
Yes, Earl was almost completely based on my dog Earl, who I had for almost 19 years. Mooch is based on the many cats I’ve had. When Earl passed away it took me a long time to be able to get another dog. But I’ve now had Amelie, another JRT, for about four years. She is a little more like a typical JRT and her behavior shows up in my more recent strips as part of Earl’s character. Earl’s relationship with his guardian, Ozzie, is very much the relationship I had with Earl, and Mooch is a bit crazier than any cat I’ve had.
You own several rescued animals. Can you tell us why you think animal adoption is important?
There are several good reasons I’d like to mention. First, when you adopt a pet you are saving a life. There are about 4 million companion animals euthanized each year in The United States alone because not enough homes can be found for all the pets that are brought into shelters each year. When you buy a dog or cat from a pet store you are preventing a homeless dog or cat from finding his or her forever home. And there are so many great pets waiting there for you! Also, for about 95% of the time, a pet store dog is coming from a puppy mill, which is a place where the animals are mistreated and the mother and father of your puppy are left in horrid conditions for their entire lives and get minimal care. A big message in MUTTS is to adopt!
Can you tell us about some of the work you do as a Humane Society board member?
The Humane Society of The United States, the largest animal protection organization, is vast in its reach to help all animals, and I am honored to be on its board. They are the voice for the least among us. They confront all forms of animal cruelty both directly and also in helping change public opinion and laws. They have an amazing track record. As board members we are responsible for governance. One of the proudest moments of my life was when I helped elect Wayne Pacelle as CEO.
What are some key animal welfare issues that are important to you?
I know for sure that animals are intelligent and have awareness and feelings. They are fellow beings and deserve to share this beautiful planet with us in peace. Therefore, I want to do all I can to stop animal suffering wherever it exists. The best decision I’ve ever made personally was to become vegan. It was so easy to do once I set my mind to it. Besides being healthier and thinking more clearly, I know I am not contributing to the suffering of farm animals. There are about 50 billion land animals slaughtered each year across the globe for food and none of it is necessary. It’s a problem we need to solve for the survival of the planet as it is also a big contributor to global warming. Each person can do their part and, even if it’s just going meatless on Monday, every bit helps.
How are you raising awareness about these issues in your comics?
In MUTTS I try to see the world through the eyes of animals. Twice a year I devote a week of MUTTS to Shelter Stories and focus on the animals waiting in shelters and rescues for their forever homes. I also do a week centered on farm animals, and create Thanksgiving strips from the turkey’s point of view. On occasion I create strips based other issues such as extinction and factory farming. But I must add that MUTTS is largely an entertaining strip based on the relationships we have with our own companion animals.
Is there a particular reason for the name of your new treasury, Cat Crazy?
As I had mentioned, I am a huge fan of comic strips. After college I co-wrote a book on comic master George Herriman, the cartoonist who created Krazy Kat. So Cat Crazy is a play on that. It’s also a tribute to all of us who are cat crazy, and a fitting title for a strip about Mooch.
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