Mittens McGee doesn't exactly look like an artist.
He's a friendly, fat, gray-and-white cat who commands a comfy couch in his room with a view at the SPCA of Anne Arundel County in Annapolis.
A few weeks ago, though, teen volunteers wrangled Mittens McGee into creating a work of art. They dipped his feet in pet-safe, water-soluble paint and coaxed him to walk across a canvas. The result — a bright, abstract painting that's reminiscent of fall leaves — will be sold next weekend along with other feline, canine and leporine works of art.
"We get their feet in the paint and they hop around," said Kirstyn Northrop Cobb, the SPCA's outreach coordinator.
"There are treats involved," she admitted. "There's a bit of bribing."
Cobb organized the animal painting sessions with the help of students from a club at the Key School, who spend an hour every Monday volunteering at the shelter. Staff and the students kicked around ideas for a creative fundraiser, and the animal art project was born.
All told, four dogs, three cats and two bunnies were selected for the initial attempt.
The students put canvases down on the floor and poured paint in small trays, then encouraged the animals to walk on the canvases.
"We'd bring treats once in a while for the less enthusiastic animals to entice them a little more to move around," said Megan Latimer, a Key School senior.
The students spend time at the SPCA weekly as part of the school's flexible activities program, said sophomore Katie Young. Sometimes, the work involves the animal painting. Other times, they just cuddle and play with the shelter animals.
"We go and play with them and hold them," said freshman Michaela Beavers.
The dogs that created artwork have been adopted, but the cat and bunny painters are still waiting for permanent homes.
The three cat artists — Mittens McGee, Molly Marie and Rain — were picked because they have feline leukemia, a disease that can spread to other cats and ultimately means a shorter life span.
Cobb said some shelters won't adopt out leukemia-positive cats, but the SPCA does. The trio is segregated from the rest of the shelter's cats, but they have pretty sweet digs. Instead of being in crates or cages, they have a room that's been turned into a "cattery," with an old couch, scratching posts and windows they can lounge in front of.
Cobb hopes artistic renown will encourage people to adopt the leukemia-positive cats, who she said are currently healthy — and friendly.
"Our leukemia-positive cats are still happy cats," she said.
While they are happy, the cats were not exactly thrilled at the prospect of tapping their inner Picasso — at least not compared with the dogs and bunnies.
"The cats are not enjoying it as much," Cobb said.
The pet paintings come in three sizes, small ones created by the bunnies and cats and larger ones done by dogs. They range in price from $10 to $25 and will be for sale from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, at JoJo's Cupcakes, 188 Main St. in Annapolis.
"It's the Saturday before Christmas, so we figure a lot of people will be downtown," Cobb said.
She hopes the sale will raise a little money for the nonprofit shelter and raise awareness of the need for homes for so many shelter animals. Cobb suggested the paintings could make for an inexpensive but creative holiday gift for an animal lover.