MUTTS Comic Strip Creator Patrick McDonnell: “I Try My Best to Give a Voice to Shelter Animals”
According to the ASPCA, each year approximately 7.6 companion animals enter shelters nationwide – approximately 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats. Of those, approximately 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats are euthanized. Patrick McDonnell, creator of the phenomenally successful, award-winning comic strip MUTTS (http://www.Mutts.com), is devoted to helping shelter animals avoid that fate.
Growing up in Edison, New Jersey in the 1960s, McDonnell longed for two things – to own a dog and create comics. Alas, he didn’t achieve the first goal until way into his thirties: “My family had cats. I used to buy books on how to raise and train a dog but Mom and Dad never took the hint. They thought my siblings and I wouldn’t be responsible.”
The second goal had a much shorter gestation period: “From the age of five, comic strips like Peanuts gave me such joy,” McDonell said. “Charles Schultz was my idol. I knew I wanted to tell stories with pictures and words.” The artist began his career as a magazine illustrator, from 1978 to 1993 drawing the Russell Baker Observer column for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He also created a comic strip for Parents magazine called Bad Baby and contributed to Sports Illustrated, Reader’s Digest, Times and Forbes. Now 60, McDonnell laughs, remembering, “I used to add to illustrations what I thought was a generic white dog with a circle around his eye in the background.”
An art director told McDonnell the “generic” dog was a Jack Russell Terrier – in the pre-Frasier days, a fairly obscure breed. When the comic strip artist and his wife moved to the suburbs they got their white dog, Earl, with a circle around his eye from a breeder. “It was before I became educated about shelters,” McDonnell explains. Not-so-shockingly many of the real Earl’s traits inspired his fictional counterpart’s exploits in MUTTS – i.e.: “a lot of napping, displays of innocence and love of life.”
Both Earls spurred in the artist much contemplation about life through an animal’s eyes. “There is some strange disconnection when people don’t realize animals have feelings. Children intuitively know animals are our friends. The main message of MUTTS is kindness and compassion and to make people have empathy that we’re all on this planet together.”
The more McDonnell’s eyes opened to what life is like when you’re less than one foot off the ground, the more he wanted to make that life better. “Two years into the strip I realized Earl and his cat buddy Mooch (inspired by a neighbor’s tabby) had loving homes and guardians. Not all animals are so lucky.”
Twenty years ago McDonnell began using his platform to help people see “how tough it is for animals on the planet. Imagine being in a shelter not knowing why you’re there – think of the trauma and the longing these animals have to be reunited with their owner or find a new owner.”