The summer before 6th grade, I got bit by a cocker spaniel. I saw him wandering around our cul de sac and thought he must be lost. I remembered that when you meet a dog for the first time, you’re supposed to build trust by letting it sniff your hand. At 11 years old, I was feeling brave and worried for the curly haired pup, so I knelt down and extended my right hand. It turns out that dog wasn’t interested in sniffing and took a big ol’ bite instead. I had to have surgery, wore a sling for the first few weeks of junior high, and still have a huge scar on my hand to this day.
My relationship to animals definitely changed after that. Instead of the curious innocence and blind infatuation of a child every time they see a cute, furry being, I became more cautious; I needed to trust the animal before I could fully love it.
It’s not that I stopped loving animals—there are some I love very much, including childhood pets—it’s just that now the danger of a strange beast that communicates purely in loud noise and quick movement is always in my subconscious. And the proof of the danger is permanently on my right hand.
On the other hand, I do believe that some people truly have a gift for understanding another species. Marta Kenar is one of those people. From my stepmom Karen who is obsessed with animals and has allowed every kind of pet you can imagine into our home (dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, turtle, snake, various rodents) to my best friend and PWP co-founder Alysse who truly cares about the wellbeing of every living thing on earth from butterflies to exotic wild animals to her very own new brood of chickens, you’d think I wouldn’t know anyone who could love animals more than them. But Marta may be the exception. As founder of MCP Rescue and Outreach, Marta hopes to instill compassion for animals, involve as many people as possible in rescuing dogs, and use art and music to bring youth into her mission.
People with Panache: What’s the most important part of dog rescue?
Marta Kenar: (1) Outreach. You can save 600 dogs a day and all shelters are still pouring in with owner surrenders, strays and whatever. There are just too many dogs. There need to be better spay and neuter laws; backyard breeding needs to end. So that means education, funding for spay and neuter, and obviously some law changes would be nice, but the quantity of animals is the biggest challenge. You find a great family for one dog, and then you cry for 6 hours because your other two favorites died.
(2) Fostering. Fosters are incredibly needed and make our world go round. Many people are afraid of it because it’s going to be too much work, or they’re going to get attached, and then it’s a headache. They don’t realize that the only way these dogs could leave the shelter is if someone opens up their home temporarily. Then we learn their personalities in full, and we can market them that way. It’s a healthy addiction, and once you sacrifice yourself in that way and see that you’re a part of the movement, it gets easier to let go and open your home again.
(3) Iso-fostering. This is also extremely important right now because the city shelter can’t get rid of the dog flu. Many foster families already have animals, because they’re people who love animals. With iso-fostering, the dogs need a home with no other animals for 2-3 weeks. They need to shed their shelter bug—the death rate’s very high.
PWP: That really puts fostering dogs into perspective—and I hadn’t even heard of iso-fostering before. How is your approach different from other rescues?
MK: MCP is very focused on the dogs as individuals. Our success with our adoption rates thus far is because we really personalize each animal. We give him or her a voice to allow their character to shine through in our descriptions. It’s more than “dog is friendly, plays ball, knows sit.” It’s “going to the local pub but drinks only lemonade and orders a banana split.”
We had a little pitty who had one blue eye and one brown eye, and I wrote a story about how she came from traveling the Mediterranean, where she caught a glimpse of a mermaid and her eye turned blue. I love magic—combine magic, animals, creativity and art, and it’s like a bomb of awesome.
PWP: How did you get to where you are today with MCP?
MK: I love animals; I live for animals. Animals are my soul. It makes me teary—I’m such a sap when it comes to them. I was in the wine and flower industry for more than a decade and always did rescue out of our little storefront—but it got to be too many animals. So two years ago I started MCP, my dream job.
We’re doing a spin on outreach involving art. Art is the universal language, and we want to build compassion back into our urban youth via art. So we want to do huge murals and permanent sculptures in neighborhoods that all have to do with compassion for animals. MCP stands for Mission Compassion Paw, and we want to make it cool for these kids. Our whole identity is not paws and hearts; it’s going to be urban, raw, Banksy meets Biggy Smalls. We have artists working on it. I’m very excited.
PWP: So in terms of outreach, what do you envision that will look like?
MK: We’re doing a big outreach event in August with some other larger rescue groups where we are providing spay/neuter, vaccinations, medical help, collars and leashes, and micro-chipping to a community who can’t afford it.
With kids and art, I envision almost like rap concerts that would be all about animals, with information about spay and neuter, for example. At one point there will be a dog that comes in, and kids can pet him and learn about him that way; it’s really about instilling that compassion.
PWP: What is your vision for the future?
MK: The big vision is to cover the nation with incredible artwork by awesome artists from all kinds of mediums, projecting their compassion for animals and getting kids involved.
PWP: What inspires you the most in your work?
MK: The dogs’ unbreakable spirits. Their humor. They’re hilarious, and they have so much personality. I love them so much. The color within them inspires me.
I don’t want anyone to be lonely, so feeding them love and finding them forever homes, especially since most of them are abused and neglected, is everything to me.
Pick up the August 2016 issue of Chicago Woman magazine to see Marta on page 24!
[Photos of Marta by Kate; dog photos provided by Marta.]
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