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The Teal Cat Project Turns Tacky Kitty Figurines Into Chic Centerpieces for Charity

We've died and gone to cat tchotchke heaven! Hoard away, fellow collectors: it's for a great cause.

 |  Mar 16th 2012  |   3 Contributions


As you've probably noticed, there are a LOT of cat tchotchkes in the world -- you probably have a few at home, and we'll bet there are more than a handful sitting on your local thrift store's shelves right this minute. Most of them are adorable, but some of them are tacky, outdated, or just plain uncool.

What if there were a way to turn those unwanted ceramic kitty statuettes into stylish, fund-raising ambassadors for cat rescue groups across the United States? Enter the Teal Cat Project! We sat down with the project's guru, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and got all the details.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz with some of the most recent batch of Teal Cats.

Catster: Tell us a little bit about the Project's background and how you got started.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz: As a vegan chef, I try to use my skills to raise money for different causes that I care about. One thing I like to do is four-course fancy benefit dinners. Depending on what I’m raising money for, I like to use tchotchkes that represent the cause as centerpieces for the table because they’re so cute and people can take them home as a little memento. Often it’s for a kitty shelter, and so I’m always collecting ceramic kitty cats from thrift stores.

I was trying to figure out a way to make the kitties a little more special and stylish, and so I painted one. It looked so cool I thought I could probably sell them and raise even more money, and thus the idea was born.

Tell us about your day job. How does the Teal Cat Project fit in around it?

I’m a cookbook author and so my schedule is very flexible. I’m able to work on some recipes, do some writing, and then decompress by working on Teal Cat things. Because of my job I have some visibility, and can use that to spread the word.

Teal Cat Project's Leigh Ellis paints the cats with a spray gun.

How do you choose the adoption/rescue groups who benefit from the campaigns? Is there a personal connection?

It’s so difficult to choose because there are so many organizations that are worthy of the funds. I chose NYC Feral Cat Initiative for the first because I’m a native New Yorker and have seen firsthand the harsh life some of these city kitties live. As a child, I always fed my neighborhood ferals, and that trend continued into my adulthood. So yes, that one was very personal.

After the painting, the kitties get personalized tags.

For the second campaign, I chose Alley Cat Allies in Bethesda, Maryland. They host National Feral Cat Day, and after participating last year I was so very impressed with their organization that I wanted to give them everything: my firstborn, my life savings, whatever they wanted!

For the third campaign I chose the SFSPCA. San Francisco holds a big place in my heart. I moved there rather unsuccessfully as a teenager and have been visiting as often as I can ever since. And after reading about all the amazing work that the SFSPCA does to help feral cats, I knew it had to be them. They receive no government funding and yet have managed to accomplish so much, including free spay and neuter, which is amazing.

Isa inspects a newly painted batch.

And this new campaign is for the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, because I spent a few years in Portland and have a lot of love for that state. The campaign will be at the end of March, but the exact date is still a mystery. That is part of the fun of the project! You have to stay on top of it to make sure you get your kitty. But we’re hoping to have plenty of cats for everyone just in time for Mother’s Day.

What these organizations have in common is a strong education element, and that is such a large piece of the puzzle. The only way to stop feral kitty overpopulation is to educate human beings.

Tagging a Teal Cat before it goes to its new forever home.

What feedback have you gotten from the charities you've supported so far? Can you get any actual figures on cats saved/trapped, etc.?

The costs vary from city to city, and so, although it’s tempting to break it down into numbers like that, I don’t know how accurate it would be. The organizations are of course thrilled to get the attention and the funds! Hopefully we’ve created a partnership that goes beyond the individual campaign. Community is such an important factor in any grassroots movement.

The SFSPCA was able to procure lots of traps thanks to our donations, and they actually put a little teal plaque on each that says “A gift from The Teal Cat Project.” That really warmed our hearts! It’s so important for everyone to see the difference these funds make.

So what's up with teal? What appealed to you about the color?
I think I chose it because it isn’t my favorite color. Purple is my favorite! But I wanted something that felt new and fresh to me. And of course I wanted the color to pop. Teal really fits in with the crafty theme; it’s just a great color for bookshelves and goes well with so many color palettes. And the name all together just sounded right! That was a superimportant factor.

The previous three campaigns sold out really fast, so there's obviously a big demand. So the more cats you get, the more you can send/sell, and the more you can raise, right? Shall we ask Catster readers to send more?

A clowder of cats, ready to be mailed.

YES. That is exactly how it works. We sell kitties until we run out, which was only two days last time. Again, it’s all about community. We can’t do it alone!

It’s really fun to post photos of the Teal Cats on Facebook and Twitter and have people say, “That’s the kitty I sent you!” I love it -- the circle of life.

Do you think a Teal Dog Project might work?

I do! We have plans to branch out to other animals and causes on occasion. Our main focus will always be cats, but we do see so many cute doggy and bunny tchotchkes that it’s hard not to pick 'em up. One thing, though: When we switch up the animal we’re going to switch up the color, too! So there’s a little bit of excitement for you.

How can Catster readers follow the Project and help with its aims?

Subscribe to our blog, where we post fun craft kitty projects and give catvice (you know, advice for cats!). You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Shipping is currently only available in the U.S. Have you thought about expanding internationally, or setting up Teal Cat offshoots?

The problem with international shipping is that it gets risky. If a cat breaks or gets lost, it costs us so much that we can’t afford it.

I would love to have Teal Cat offshoots, but it’s a lot of work and I’m not sure how we would be able to train dedicated groups of volunteers. It really is a full-time job.  What I hope is that this project inspires others to think creatively about fundraising!

And finally ... can teal kitties save the world and end feline overpopulation?

YES. Well, no, not alone. But we are so happy to be working toward that goal with so many other organizations. Again, I hope that it inspires others to take action however they can. That’s what it’s all about.

Photo credits: Justin Limoges

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