Co-op students chart a path to pet adoption

frannie, by senior Dariana Pallasco, housed at the Mitchell Branch Library. Photos by Lucy Gellman.

Frannie stares straight at the viewer, her eyes twinkling and milky in the center. His ears fall back, more friendly than on guard. Its mouth opens, exposing a row of teeth and a large, flat pink tongue that sticks out to one side. A spray of white flowers explodes in the grass under his paws.

If a viewer leans in, they appear to be smiling. For senior and junior Co-Op artist Dariana Pallasco, that big, drool-free smile took weeks to come true.

Frannie and 11 of her furry friends are part of Adopt: don’t buy!, a new exhibition by visual arts teacher Kristin Wetmore and her students at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. Last year, students collaborated with the Robin I. Kroogman New Haven Animal Shelter to paint portraits of dogs and cats for adoption. The 12 paintings now hang in the program room of the Mitchell Branch Library until the end of February.

Since the project began last fall, the shelter has confirmed that some of the animals have been adopted.

“I feel like dogs don’t get as much attention,” Jayla Madera, whose main cornerstone is dedicated to animal rescue, said during a Google Meet session with the class on Thursday. “It’s a way to spread the word. I’m proud of myself because that’s what I wanted, for the animals to attract attention.

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The inspiration behind Adopt: don’t buy! began last year, when Wetmore heard of a teacher “somewhere in the Midwest” who had done the same thing. In recent years, similar collaborations have sprung up across the country, from Tucson, Arizona in upstate New York to Asheville in the north. Caroline. For Wetmore, who comes home every night to a smart and dedicated rescue cat named Nala, the idea caught on. Madera had previously suggested that she wanted to focus her cornerstone on rescue animals. It gave him a way to involve the whole class, and push them as young artists in the process.

When Wetmore reached out, Fournier Street Animal Shelter granted him permission to use photos of some of his animals, a mix of furry cats and Pit Bull mixes who all appeared to be in the process of do it for the camera. She worked closely with the Friends of New Haven Animal Shelter and praised volunteer Deb Wan for helping get the project started. In a phone call Friday morning, Wan said the shelter was grateful to be part of the project.

“Any public exposure of one of our animals is wonderful,” Wan said. “Few people come to the shelter. Many people do not know where the shelter is. I want to thank them [the students and Wetmore] for taking the time to center these animals and promote adoption.

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Miracle, by senior Jayla Madera. Oliver Colacino’s calico cat, Rosie, is at left.

When the students received the photos last year, they got to work. Madera began plotting her design for a dog named Miracle, an 8-year-old Pit Bull Terrier who came to the shelter in early 2021. In the photo she received, Miracle opens her mouth and looks straight into the camera photo, his jaw opened to reveal a long, muscular sliver of red tongue.

Madera replaced a brick wall in the background with a solid block of yellow, breathing some sunshine into the room. She focused on Miracles soft ears, deep black and bent forward with oxblood red flaps. She worked carefully, drawing a white stripe that started at the dog’s forehead and gathered around his nose like spilled milk.

The project is personal for her, as it is for many of her peers who have loved, lost and learned responsibility through their pets. Growing up in New Haven, Madera owned a Chihuahua named Buttercup, who came into her life when she was just a toddler. For over a decade, Buttercup was the most consistent and loyal friend she could have asked for. When Madera was sad, the dog would tilt its head and look at her with large, moist eyes that communicated full understanding. “She was laying her head on me,” she recalls.

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Coconutby junior Eliel Velazquez, and Bullwinkleof junior Amairani Portillo.Ryan Tuxpan Tepatzi’s sat is all to the right.

When Buttercup died, the family took in a Shih Tzu named Princess into their home. But the fit was not good; Madera’s mother eventually brought the animal to the shelter when it became clear the family could not keep him. The whole ordeal “really hurt,” Madera said. It also pushed her to research the abuse some animals face before they find their forever home. The senior cornerstone is meant to create more dialogue about ending these abuses, especially as shelters face overcrowding in the third calendar year of the pandemic.

In the library’s program room, elastic mustaches, narrow faces, loose jowls, and tabby, calico, and toffee furs stare at each other, inviting viewers to come in and take a peek. Near the door, senior Oliver (Ollie) Colacino has taken artistic liberties with Rosie, a 5-year-old calico cat who is curled tightly into a ball as her eyes swivel forward and fixate on the viewer. In the painting, Colacino showed Rosie up close, her face clear and detailed against a solid azure blue background. She looks slightly angry, as if she’s been bothered or tired of waiting for the right adoptive family.

Like Madera, Colacino said the project resonated with him because of his love for animals. At home, he has a dog named Manny and two cats named Sable and Rosemary. During quarantine and distance learning, Rosemary has particularly “lifted my mood”, keeping her company through months of social isolation. During Thursday’s conversation on Google Meet, she kept him company after the school bus missed his stop on the road and he logged on to classes from home. He said he was certain pets could improve mental health.

“I just want to say that I’m proud of our whole class for creating these amazing portraits, and I hope they get the attention they deserve,” he said. “The whole class gives pets a second chance, giving them more attention through our art.”

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Junior Isabela Bedoya represented Pebbles, a 5-year-old Pit Bull Terrier.

In the same row of paintings, a 5-year-old Pit Bull Terrier mix named Pebbles gazes expectantly at viewers, her head so animated it looks like she could pop out of the paper and walk into the room. Artist Isabela Bedoya has become clean and modernist in her approach, bringing her own twist to a long-standing and revered tradition of animal portraiture. She studied Pebbles eyes carefully, reflecting how the right splits into two pools of brown, while the other remains an unbroken circle of blue.

The painting is extremely neat in its execution, from the attention it pays to Pebbles’ fine hair to his wet, velvety black nose and intricately scalloped tongue. Instead of painting the grass that fills the background, Bedoya filled it with a solid block of seafoam green. This is reminiscent of the work of Jasper Oostland, who earned a little after an ocean for his portraits of animal friends poppies.

While working, Bedoya channeled her love for her former dog Muñeca – the name means doll in Spanish – a poodle who died when she was seven. The family was so heartbroken that they never adopted a pet again.

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Snoopy, by senior Jose Roque.

In this way, the paintings also tell a second story: that of pets keeping their owners steady and afloat as the world is turned upside down with Covid-19, and vice versa. When senior Jose Roque started working on his rendering of a 2-year-old Pit Bull Terrier named Snoopy, he was thinking of his own dog Cooper, a Shih Tzu-Poodle mix his family found in a New York basement. Haven almost 10 years ago. .

Roque, now a senior at Co-Op, was just a fourth-year kid. He saw how traumatized Cooper was and what a difference a care home could make. Now Cooper is a cuddly furball. When schools closed in March 2020, “he kept me company during class”, making the lockdown a little less scary. The relationship was mutual: Roque realized how his dog still suffered from separation anxiety years after being rescued. “It was better for me to be there for him,” he said.

Junior Ryan Tuxpan Tepatzi, who painted a black and white domestic shorthair cat named Sam, thought of his huskies, Shadow and Sunny. Over a year ago, his family found Shadow abandoned on the street near Exit 8, wandering around without any identification. “He was pretty naughty,” recalls Tuxpan Tepatzi. After bringing it home and cleaning it up, it became part of the family. Her son, Sunny, is just a puppy. After Tuxpan Tepatzi finished painting Sam for the show, he made paintings of his own dogs that he could keep.

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Rosie, senior Olivier Colacino.

That’s one of the reasons the project resonated with Wetmore: Almost everyone she knows has a pet story. For more than a year, she’s seen pets jump on desks, creep into offices and bedrooms, and help students stay engaged at school during remote learning.

On Google Meet’s face grid, Pallasco recalled that she and her friends found an abandoned bearded dragon wandering around New Haven last summer and brought her home. Seven months later, she is happy to have the chance to give Frannie, a 4-year-old Pit Bull Terrier, an artistic head start to adoption.

When she paints, “I try to imagine how the dogs would feel if they were adopted if we were them,” she says. “It inspired me to do more with my art.”

Buzzing around Mitchell on Thursday afternoon, branch manager Marian Huggins said she loved the project. Although Huggins didn’t grow up with pets and doesn’t think of herself as a dog or a cat, she was thrilled when Wetmore pitched the idea to her. Although the Mitchell Library maintains close relationships with seven elementary schools in the neighborhood, it is the first with one of the city’s public high schools.

“I think the work is amazing and the project is amazing too,” she said. “It gives them [students] a way of expressing oneself. »

After the show ended at Mitchell in late February, Wetmore said she would like to see the portraits finally go to the shelter, where adoptive families can bring them home with their new pets. She would also like to make it an annual project, because there are always animals to adopt. Every day she reminds her own cat Nala that she is her best friend. She thinks it every time.

“If an animal is adopted simply because of the interest in this show, my life will be over,” she said. “That’s my hope.”

The paintings are in place at the Mitchell Branch Library, 37 Harrison St., until the end of February. The Robin I. Kroogman New Haven Animal Sanctuary is located at 81 Fournier St. in New Haven. Learn more about adopting animals here.

About Patrick K. Moon

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