Behind the scenes at Cat Town, there’s an incredible volunteer team that helps with promotions, taking compelling photos of our cats that capture their distinct personalities.
Liz L. is one such volunteer, who has worked with Cat Town since 2016, generously donating her time and expertise both as a photographer and case manager. I talked with Liz about what it’s like photographing Cat Town’s shyest residents, and what tips she has for anyone trying to take quality cat photos.
Larissa C.: Do you have any cats at home?
Liz L.: I have two boys at home: Ninja and his brother Piglet. They appeared as feral kittens in our driveway with their mom almost five years ago. I trapped them all and got them altered through Fix Our Ferals. I released them, but didn’t have the heart to leave two kittens in the wild. I started working to socialize them outdoors until I could trick them into a carrier. Then I brought them inside, and put them in the largest dog kennel on the market. I made them crawl into my lap to eat wet food off my hands until they would let me touch them. Shortly after, we moved into our own home and they have made great strides ever since. Momma kitty is fed by our old roommates. Apparently, she’s accepting pets a little bit now, too!
LC: Working behind the lens as a photographer, what’s something you’ve learned about under-socialized cats and kittens that people might not expect to be true?
LL: One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is how much cats influence each other. I never would have thought putting less confident cats with more confident ones could be so powerful. I especially love shy cats who develop crushes on more confident cats. They follow them around and flirt and sometimes even mimic them.
LC: Is it difficult to take photos of Cat Town’s cats, as they tend to be more shy and reserved?
LL: Sometimes it’s difficult to photograph a cat who has just arrived at Cat Town, because they tend to hide. But really all it takes is a little crawling around on the floor, or squeezing into tight spaces and awkward positions to get what I need. Often, I will put the camera down and let them sniff it out first so they feel more comfortable. Toys and treats also help distract them and put them in a happy mood.
LC: What tips and tricks do you have for taking quality photos of cats?
LL: First and foremost, always be ready and always be patient, which seems like a contradiction. I’ve learned that when you see a cat doing something cute, don’t get too excited and swoop in ready to take a photo. You have to be fast, but measured. The minute they know you’re coming at them, they stop doing the cute thing. A zoom lens is very helpful!
LC: Is there a Cat Town cat you’ve met who really helped solidify your volunteering experience?
LL: There really isn’t just one cat; it’s the cats who take the longest that solidify the need for Cat Town and why I volunteer. Some memorable cats are Suzy, Buffy, Natalie, and my love Star—I wish I could take her home! All of these cats took a really long time to feel comfortable, but it happened eventually. Lucky for them they had the luxury of being in a place that gave them that time and helped them on their journey.
LC: What would you say to someone considering volunteering at Cat Town?
LL: It’s the most rewarding volunteer experience. I’ve learned so much about cat behavior and even medical issues. Just knowing you’re helping get them out of the shelter and into a home is satisfying on its own, but I think the bigger picture is the education we’re giving to the public, which is that every cat deserves a chance at a good life and if we give them the opportunity, no matter how long it takes, they will thrive.
If you have a special skill like photography and are interested in joining Cat Town’s volunteer team, complete the form on our website https://www.cattownoakland.org/volunteer to get involved and help make a difference in the lives of Oakland’s vulnerable cats.