'Mutts' Comic Strip Creator Is All About Animal Adoption!

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'Mutts' Comic Strip Creator Is All About Animal Adoption!
Check out these adorable cartoons that promote dog rescue

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It's often said “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but if the shelter animals depicted in Patrick McDonnell’s Shelter Stories comics could talk, they’d probably have these two heartfelt words to share: thank you.

For the past 20 years—long before today’s current trend of rescue awareness—Patrick McDonnell, the award-winning artist and creator of the Mutts comic strip (which Peanuts creator Charles Schultz called “one of the best comic strips of all time.”), has run a cartoon series sharing the tales of shelter animals and encouraging adoption.

Called Shelter Stories, the series began life after Patrick received a call from the Humane Society of the United States asking if he would lend his talent to promote Animal Shelter Awareness Week. Today, Patrick’s Shelter Stories runs in 700 newspapers around the world, twice a year—both the first week of May and the first week of November—to highlight the stories of some 10 million cats and dogs (among countless other species, like rabbits and guinea pigs), who wind up in animal shelters each year. (A published book entitled Mutts Shelter Stories: Love.Guaranteed has collected fan favourites.)

The inspiration for the series? Patrick gives all the credit to his first dog, Earl, a Jack Russell who lived to the wise old age of 19.

“Earl just had this love of life and, just looking at this joy, and thinking of the other animals who deserve that… if people would only find it in their hearts to welcome a new family member into their home…” says Patrick.

This past May, Patrick’s work was featured in Episode 6 of the PBS series “Shelter Me: Hearts and Paws,” hosted by Kristen Bell. The episode follows Patrick on his inspiration-gathering journey through the Animal Care Centers of NYC, the only open admissions shelter in New York. From doggie playgroups to bunny speed dating and pet adoption events, Patrick used his experiences to create a new “Shelter Stories” installment to encourage people to support their local shelters and adopt from them.

“The Animal Care Centers of NYC alone takes in 34,000 animals a year and they’re open 24/7. This year, so far, they’re at a 93 percent adoption rate, which is pretty incredible. They’re the angels, the ones working 24/7 for these animals. [They] are the true heroes of the series,” says Patrick, himself a New Jersey native.

So where did his love of animals come from? Like many children, Patrick adored animals. “I’ve always been an animal lover; I was in love with Snoopy and wanted a dog really bad.”
But unlike most kids, this childhood desire to have a four-legged friend to call his own subconsciously followed him. When he began his magazine illustration career, working for such publications as Sports Illustrated and Time magazine, he found that his cartoons would more often than not feature a generic dog in the background. It was only after his editor revealed that the “generic” dog he kept drawing was actually a Jack Russell Terrier that Patrick decided to act on this overdue wish and his childhood dream of welcoming a dog into his family finally came to fruition.

“It was full circle, really. The cartoon dog became a real dog, and then the real dog inspired Mutts,” says Patrick.
A love of pets wasn’t the only thing that began in childhood. Although he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City on scholarship, graduating in 1978, Patrick says his love of cartoons started as early as four or five years old.
“I was lucky, my mom and dad went to art school in New York City, so art was encouraged in our home. It’s just something I wanted to do my whole life and I was lucky I had parents who encouraged me to follow my dream.”

Clearly, it’s Patrick’s ability, honed over a lifetime, to “draw everything like they are alive,” coupled with his lifelong love of animals, that enables him to so powerfully capture the stories, struggles, and successes of the pets featured in his Shelter Stories. “I just feel like they’re our fellow beings on this planet. They’re little souls we share this earth with.”
The series has led to countless letters from fans sharing how his Shelter Series has changed their lives and, in turn, the lives of a shelter animal.

“I did a story once about dogs and cats with health problems and the dog, Sky, wanted to be adopted, but he was deaf. The last line was ‘listen to your heart.’ About a month after that story appeared, I received a letter from a police officer who had been part of a drug bust, and there was a deaf dog she had to take to the local shelter. She said that for the rest of the day she couldn’t get that dog out of her head. Shortly after she read the paper where that comic strip appeared and she went back to the shelter to adopt that dog,” he says, adding “I would say that’s the best letter I ever got.”

Next up for this passionate animal advocate is bringing his beloved Mutts characters to life in a screenplay currently in development with Fox Animation, which Patrick calls “entertainment, but with a strong animal message”.

It’s another way to share the message he’s been trying to impart throughout his whole career: “You can find a new best friend. It could save your life, and save a life. They’re just waiting for you.”

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