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Help for Best Friends

Art Project Aims to Draw Attention to Abandoned Pets

Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call
The Best Friends Art Project, designed to highlight the need to adopt animals that otherwise would be euthanized, is on display in the Russell Rotunda.

At first glance, one of the most unusual displays in the Best Friends Art Project, which has been showing all this week in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, is a simple dog house created out of 575 dog and cat collars.

The collars have obviously been used but most are still colorful, and inside the dog house is a soft pillow and a bright yellow tennis ball that is almost begging to be used for a game of fetch.

It isn’t until you read the display next to the exhibit that you learn that each collar came from an unwanted cat or dog that was euthanized at a pet shelter last year — together, they represent the 575 animals that were put to death every hour in American shelters in 2003, some 5 million animals in total.

The Best Friends Art Project was created by artist Cyrus Mejia and photographer Clay Myers of the Best Friends Animal Society, a group that runs the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned cats, dogs and other animals. Along with the seven pieces from Mejia’s “575 Project,” the exhibit features seven other Mejia paintings and about 20 photographs from Myers.

“This work is all about the problem of homeless pets in the United States. It’s an issue that I think a lot of people are feeling more and more is a big problem,” said Mejia. “But it’s a problem that can be solved.”

Another striking exhibit by Mejia is a pencil on paper work called “The Screen of Self Defense.” The work forms a large picture of a dog and cat from 575 written explanations people have made for giving up their pets to animal shelters. They include “daughter went to college” and “barks too much.”

“When people come into a shelter they are asked why they want to give up their pets. These are some of the actual reasons they give. I did this piece with pencil and paper because it gives a very temporary feeling. I want people to think that these reasons don’t have a lot of substance to them.”

Along with Mejia’s work, Myers’ photographs depict dogs and cats he has come to know personally through his work as photo manager for Best Friends. Most of the animals he chose for his subjects are kept at the Best Friends animal sanctuary — which houses around 1,500 homeless pets at any given time — and some of his cuddly subjects are still waiting to be adopted.

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