Guest Post, Carolyn Lavender: One Less Wild One

My identity is as a visual artist who is connected to the natural world. I have mostly maintained that connection through my urban yard. A real naturalist would live close to nature, or at least go there regularly. I usually go to my studio. And my work plays with combinations of what I see as real and fake. Such as the drawing Baboon-Baboon, based on a photograph a friend took for me when we were at the zoo, and an object I own. The zoo animals are still wild, but in captivity, which is a situation where something natural is not completely natural.

Baboon-Baboon, 2014  12 x 12” graphite, acrylic on canvas panel
Baboon-Baboon, 2014 12 x 12” graphite, acrylic on canvas panel

My yard attracts about as much wildlife as central Phoenix yard can, with the largest mammals being the endless feral cats. Some are strays, but some are true ferals, having reverted back to a wild state. Apparently cats are only 10% domesticated, so it is not difficult for them to make the transition. Last summer when a female and 3 kittens showed up in the yard I decided I was up for another taming project. This is the 4th time I have trapped and tamed a wild cat. Kittens are much easier, though the first cat I tamed was an adult. I had my eye on a pure white kitten who peered at me through the window a few times.


Feisty in yard
Feisty in yard

And by luck, he is the one who ended up in my trap. He was one of the wildest cats I have ever trapped even though he was still a kitten. So I named him Feisty, put him in a crate, and moved him into my studio. Having a wild cat in my studio mimics some of what happens in my work, but the cat is real. And it is again a case of nature that is no longer in a completely natural state. Feisty was an extra big challenge in the beginning because he kept hurting himself trying to get out of the crate. Usually cats give in to being in a cage after a day or so, but not Feisty. The cage speeds up the taming, the smaller the space, the faster they tame. The first step in taming is to get the cat to eat while you are in the room. Their motivation to eat is the only reason they can be tamed. I also wrapped a stick in a rag and started reaching it into the cage and petting Feisty with it.

Everything I did was with my protection in mind. He showed aggression many times. He charged the cage when I walked by, attacked the rag stick with his teeth, spit, swiped, and hissed regularly. After 6 days I was able to reach into the cage with a bare hand to pet him at times. But he was still hurting himself, so I released him into the studio early. After a couple days of letting him hide, I blocked all his hiding places, and started over with the taming. It took a couple weeks to get him as tame as he was in the crate. And it took about a month to get him completely tame to me. It is an amazing transformation to go through with an animal. They hate you in the beginning and love you completely in the end. Their love feels like an extra special gift.



The next step was to get him tame to other people. And I needed help from friends and my husband for this. I bought some extra yummy treats that he only received from people other than myself. And lots of people came out to my studio to help with his taming and to give him treats. This eventually worked after really generous help from my friend Monica and her husband.

Monica with Fesity 8-23-14
Monica with Fesity 8-23-14

For the next step my husband and I screened in the porch between the house and the studio to use it as a space to introduce Feisty to our 3 indoor cats. First you allow the cats to smell and hear each other before seeing each other. We also have a security door that allows seeing each other, but not getting at each other. And this is the where we are now. Eventually Feisty will be moved into our house to become our 4th cat. The introduction process can take a couple days, or a couple of months, depending on the cats involved.

Feisty and Bandit thru window 2 1-1-15
Feisty and Bandit thru window 2 1-1-15

It has been 6 months since I trapped Feisty, and he demands quite a lot of attention while I work. I have chronicled his taming on Facebook, and people I see who would normally ask me about my art, are more likely to ask, “How is Feisty?” All cats carry a sense of the wild with them, but for me I think back to what he was like when he was wild, and think about that difference. Here I have taken a wild animal, have gotten to know him intimately, and have turned him into a loving and affectionate creature. What is the place of animals in our world? There are lots of answers and opinions on that. At some point the truly wild animals and places will be nearly gone, and we will need to decide as a whole whether we are going to let them go. This is one of the big questions of my work as an artist. Feisty is a great example of what wild was.


Feisty looking at my art 3 9-6-14
Feisty looking at my art 3 9-6-14

And as an artist I need to have interesting life experiences that I can take into the studio. But in this case, a little white cat is already waiting for me every day.

Feisty looking up at me 9-16-14
Feisty looking up at me 9-16-14

Help Us Support Homeless Families in Phoenix


Click here to register or to donate.

In our first meeting of fall 2013, I said to the Superstition Review interns that I wanted to make outreach part of our mission. Every semester we have a group of 40 energetic, creative, and talented people. It’s a perfect base for giving back to our community. I wanted something that would link specifically to our work in literature and the arts.

That’s when my fiction editor Kevin mentioned Read to Me at UMOM. Every Tuesday volunteers spend the evening reading to the children who live in the shelter. My Student Editor-in-Chief Erin communicated with UMOM and organized our first outing. And so a group of our interns arrived at UMOM on a Tuesday that semester ready to read. I want to share my experience from that night.

The first rule of Read to Me is that the child chooses you. I had to wait a little while before someone sat beside me. Finally, a girl wandered over to my table. She was seven years old and had tight spiral curls and big brown eyes. She smiled up at me and said, “I’m Nicole.”

I said, “I’m Trish. What should we read?”

Nicole picked a colorful I Spy book. I turned to the first page and asked Nicole to read the text under the pictures. “I spy a parrot, a picture frame, and a pig,” she said. We both giggled and then studied hard to find those objects on the page.

On page two, Nicole read, “I spy a camera, a sewing machine, and a nightgown.” We were getting pretty good at finding things! Every time I found an object Nicole said, “Good job!” When Nicole found an object I said “Nice work!”

On page three, Nicole read, “I spy a bottle of glue, a lion, and a fan.” Nicole frowned for a moment and then looked up at me.

She said, “Do you think that means a Chinese fan or an electric fan?”

“You know, Nicole?” I said. “That’s a really good question.”

We went on reading and searching for objects until Nicole decided to move on to another reader. I drove home that night thinking about little Nicole. Her warm smile. Her happy attitude. Her intellectual curiosity. And how smart she was for asking the right questions.

Nicole inspired me to ask a question too. What more can I do to help?

I continue to take groups of interns to Read to Me. We’ll be there on October 14th. But we’re also so excited that at 7:30 AM on Saturday September 27th we’re going to be part of the 6th Annual UMOM Walk for Homeless Families (1K Walk & 5K Run). I hope you will join our team or donate. Here are the specifics:

In 2009, UMOM Women’s Auxiliary founded The Walk for Homeless Families to help spread community awareness about family homelessness and raise funds for UMOM. The walk is a family-friendly, fun and inspiring way to help UMOM break the cycle of homelessness.

Early-bird registration for the 1 Mile Walk and 5K Run is only $25 for adults and $20 for students until September 15, 2014. Children under 3 are free and do not need to register. All registered people, in attendance, will receive FREE admission into the zoo that day!

Event Location: The Phoenix Zoo

Event Schedule:
Registration 9/27/2014 6:30 am – 7:15 am
Walk/Run Begins 9/27/2014 7:30 am

Adult Registration: $25.00
1 Adult Registration that includes admission to The Phoenix Zoo for the day of the walk.

Student Registration: $20.00
1 Student Registration that includes admission to The Phoenix Zoo for the day of the walk