Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
These days CATHY appears in approximately 1,400 newspapers worldwide, and more than 20 collections and gift books of CATHY cartoons have been published. Guisewite has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Reuben Award for "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year" from the National Cartoonists Society in 1993. And earlier this year she received The Genesis Award from The Ark Trust for Outstanding Cartoonist, for her comic strips that denounced the wearing of fur and promoted the adoption of older animals from shelters.
Although Cathy grew up with a cat, a horse (her older sister's), a pony (her younger sister's), goldfish, mice, even two cows named Huntley and Brinkley, she always wanted a dog. "I started a campaign to get a dog when I was about 7 years old," she recalls. "My room was covered with posters and I learned all about dogs. My parents finally consented when I was 10 or 11. The deal was they could choose the type of dog we got so we had a Schnauzer. Heidi was the love of my life and lived to be 18 years old."
One year after the comic strip began "I met my soulmate, the true love of my life, a dog named Trolley. A collie-shepherd mix, I got her minutes after I moved into a place where I could have a dog. I lived and worked at home, so she was with me 24 hours a day for 14 years," Cathy remembers, with tears welling up in her eyes.
Like her cartoon counterpart, Cathy was single "for a thousand years," and Trolley played a crucial role in her life. "My dog was with me all the time. I talked to my dog. She was my best buddy. I shared all my secrets with her, but I don't think I every really tried jokes out with the dog. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I would take Trolley to the beach every day at the end of the day, and when we moved to LA I used to take her to the dog park to play frisbee at the end of the day. So she would start doing 'the paw thing' on my leg which forced me to take a break from my work."
While Cathy the cartoonist always had a dog, it took her alter ego CATHY 13 years to get her canine companion Electra, (who came from the animal shelter,) because it took her that long to learn how to draw a dog. "I always think of Electra as a puppy version of Trolley. I had such a close relationship with my dog, and my dog so filled the need in my life to have children that I just wanted Cathy to have that experience. A lot of married people certainly have wonderful relationships with their dogs, but when you're single and your dog is the only other living thing in your house, it's a really special relationship which I wanted CATHY to have."
In 1992 cartoonist Cathy became a single mom when she adopted her daughter Ivy. But it was really her experience with Trolley that prepared her for this new role. "My mom says that she thought I had no room in my heart for children until my dog passed away … but because of taking care of my dog for so long…. kind of building my life around my dog … it was certainly being a parent for all those years. It was having one part of your brain really care about another living thing. That's the essence of being a parent. Trolley died exactly nine months before Ivy was born, so I like to think that some part of Trolley's spirit came around in my daughter."
After Trolley, Cathy had another dog named Zoo. "Now we have Billy, 5, who we nicknamed "The Stooge," because whatever Trolley had in brains Billy has in looks. He's also a mix, closely related to a Llasa Apsa or Tibetan Terrier, and he came from The Amanda Foundation. He was 8 weeks old and dumped at the pound by his owner because he had a little bump on his stomach. His owner thought he was defective and didn't want to spend any money on him, so he ended up at Amanda. It is true you can get wonderful puppies from rescue organizations and shelters."
While cartoon CATHY'S life is based on that of her real life counterpart, there are differences. CATHY works at a company called Product Testing Incorporated, but her creator admits "I have no idea what she actually does. She just always has piles of papers and lots of emergencies."
A major presence in cartoon CATHY'S life is her friend, ex-boyfriend and occasional escort Irving, whom Guisewite says is a "composite of all sorts of problems I ran into in my life rolled into one special guy."
Cathy says she wanted to explore a different side of Irving and have something happen to him that would change him significantly. Because he was a man who had such a hard time committing and expressing emotions, she had him adopt an older dog, named Vivian, from the shelter.
"In my own life I have seen men who are just too cool for words, yet who lose it for their dogs. They hug them, they kiss them good-by, they kiss them on the lips, they sleep with them, they snuggle with them, and yet for the woman it's 'don't get too close.' I thought it would be interesting to have Irving really fall in love with the dog and feel the power of that, and to have CATHY witness Irving as a caring, very committed, loving, nurturing parent as opposed to sort of the cool, un-needy guy he was. And Irving specifically adopted an older dog from the shelter which was a lovely thing for him to do. And it was a lovely thing for CATHY to have seen him do. For him to be able to say that I wanted an older dog because I knew that nobody else would take care of her."
"When Irving got Vivian it was at a point when CATHY was thoroughly disgusted with him and then suddenly saw this other side of him. Although they're not specifically still dating now, I think it absolutely gave her some new interest in him."
Cartoonist Cathy, meanwhile, got married for the first time when she was 47 years old and just celebrated her 4th anniversary. "My reality was blown apart by my daughter. In terms of learning to live with another human being, that kind of prepared me for marriage. I did it backwards from most people, but I had never lived with anybody for a minute before my daughter came, so that was a shocker that I was just beginning to recover from when I met my husband. I feel like I had waited my lifetime for the right guy and I really found him. It just proves that it can happen." (Editor's Note: Sigh….)
As for what she has accomplished with her comic strip over two and a half decades Cathy says, "I'm most proud of having created something that men never completely get. Even men I know who love my strip… I feel like they never really get it at the same level that women do. I'm proud that I've written something I think is special for women, and that a lot of women think of CATHY as their friend. That is a great feeling. It's gratifying for me to know that I'm not the only one with these disasters, insecurities, problems, frustrations, the little stupid icky things that destroy your day and challenge your sense of humor."
To commemorate her milestone anniversary of CATHY, Guisewite has taken 25 years of material which she edited, rearranged and tied together in a different way to produce 4 new books, which she calls the 4 Basic Guilt Trips- Food, Love, Mom and Work. For example, for the "Love" book she relabeled all the men she had written about and put them in chapters such as Mr. Unlucky, Mr. Enlightenment, Mr. Earth, Mr. Oblivious and Mr. Dog Person. The books, published by Andrews McMeel, should all be out in time to make great stocking stuffers for the holidays.
Another major theme the cartoonist often writes about is shopping, which is how she made her anti-fur statement. "It's only effective when it comes about as a really organic, natural part of the strip. Every year the women's magazines wear me down with the fur and last year I just couldn't take it anymore. So I did a strip about it which got a lot of attention. Last year all those skins were huge - crocodile and snake and all sorts of horrible things. It's not that last year was unique, it just seemed like fur was everywhere. It was just shocking to me."
Using her unique wit, she reiterated those feelings when she accepted her well-earned Genesis Award. "It was one thing for the fashion industry to tell us that the thong bikini was back. That the spandex mini skirt was back. That the midriff revealing tube top was back. But when the fashion magazines announced last year that wearing real fur was back, as though respecting animals is something that can go in and out of style… as though a conscience is something that can be a removable part of an outfit, I know that millions of us were outraged and went silently beserk. I am very lucky to have a job that gives me something to do besides stand in my living room, shrieking at Vogue magazine and throwing things at the television set."
Reflecting on her Genesis Award, Cathy admitted she was awed to be in that group of people "who have done such amazing work. It was very moving to me just to be in a room full of people who have devoted themselves to raising people's consciousness. It gave me a sense of obligation to use my work to make serious points when I could on behalf of animals."
There are many animal issues she feels passionate about, and finding an organic way for them to be part of the strip is something she would like to do. "I'm most concerned about the shelter situation. To encourage people to get pets from shelters first and foremost… to not spend money, to not go out and buy a perfect purebred but to find pets from shelters and to never introduce more puppies or kittens into the world."
It turns out that cartoonist Cathy and cartoon CATHY have the same message they'd like to leave with our Los Angeles readers: "In this town which is very impersonal and cliquish, tacky, and sort of celebrates the wrong values… pets are more important than anything. Pets are so humbling… They're loyal. They're honest. They're trustworthy. They're always there for you. They don't run out and get another agent. They will love you till the end of time. They don't care how old you are, they don't care what you look like, they don't care if you're having a bad day or a good day, and they don't care if you're rich or if you're poor. When you're looking for yourself in this town look at your pets because that's how you'll get back to what's really important and what is good in life. They are just such superior beings!"
(CATHY appears locally in the LA Times, or you can now subscribe to CATHY e-mail delivery from www.uComics.com. Her new books about Food and Mom should be out later this month, quickly followed by Work and Love. CATHY cartoons appearing in The Pet Press have been reprinted with the permission of Universal Press Syndicate.)
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