Designer Q&A: Caroline Sommerfeld and the Lovecats Cowl, Part I

When Caroline Sommerfeld founded Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts, she began rocking the yarn world with beautiful hand-dyed fiber and yarns, and she hasn’t stopped yet! That’s why we asked her to design a custom Interweave colorway and an exclusive color-pooling cowl, which you can only get in the Lovecats Cowl Kit. Here, we asked about her company’s commitment to animal charities.

lovecats cowl

Caroline’s Lovecats Cowl, in colorway Silver Tabby Ursula.

Q: Your Meow and Woof yarns set Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts (AAFC) apart from other small dye companies. How did you come up with the idea to make animal colorways?

A: I was a volunteer with the Meow Foundation, an animal rescue group focusing on stray and abandoned cats, for over 12 years, and during that time I filled many roles with them. After 12 years of heavy lifting and fostering and so on, I felt it was time for a bit of a change. One of any rescue groups’ constant requirements is fundraising, because all their work is done on the basis of donations. Also, education of the public on the issues around responsible pet ownership is also very important but can be challenging. It occurred to me that yarn might be a very good way to both fundraise and educate people about rescue charities, and to get them (and the cause of responsible pet ownership) more publicity in places they just aren’t able to address.

It seemed obvious to me that, given the charities I wanted to help and given what I do for a living, cat-colored yarns in the form of the Meow collection would be a perfect fit! What cat lover doesn’t like cat things? Woof yarns came along when dog lovers started asking for dog-inspired yarns, and thanks to that demand we happily expanded to create the Woof collection for them, since dogs are just as in need of rescue as cats. To my great joy, both lines are a success and have continued to do wonderful things for this cause.

Q: Your page on the specific animal charities assisted by Meow and Woof sales lists 3 types of animal assistance programs: rescue and adoption, TNR, and SNAP. We’ll assume most people understand the importance of rehoming pets (that is, socialized animals) whenever possible. How do TNR and SNAP programs fit into the picture?

A: Oh, this is a great question! Part of the problem with the ongoing overpopulation of companion animals is that pets are so often allowed to breed without thought to the consequences for the offspring. Cats, for example, can reproduce as early as 4 months old, and if not spayed or neutered, nature will take its course. Suddenly 1 cat is now 3–9 cats.

The obvious answer is to spay and neuter pets, but the issue for low-income pet owners is how to afford procedures that can cost hundreds of dollars. This is where SNAP programs come in! SNAP stands for Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, and it allows people who cannot otherwise afford to spay or neuter their companions to have this procedure done. It is important in reducing companion animal overpopulations, but it also helps the pets and owners, too, because it reduces the risk of certain health issues as well as undesirable behaviors like aggression or spraying. This makes it easier to keep pets in their homes and cuts down on the number of pets needing homes!

TNR is another very important program that helps to reduce overpopulation. Many times when cats are abandoned or lost, they live on the streets and will form feral colonies. Nature again takes its course, perpetuating and increasing the number of animals living on the streets. Life for these cats is nasty, short, and brutish, but if born on the street and feral in nature, it can be exceedingly hard to find homes for such cats (plus, some of these cats are very unhappy indoors). Instead, a TNR program (Trap-Neuter-Return) will support a colony of cats on the street. The cats are live-trapped, neutered/spayed, given any needed vet care, vaccinated, and released in a safe space. They are supported with food and water and shelters as needed so they can live out their lives comfortably. For some cats, this is the best option. But it can also be wonderful for people, too, as outdoor cats can help control pests and be loving friends at the same time!

Q: What other sorts of companion animal programs do you like? Will AAFC add to its donation roster in the future?

A: It’s difficult for me to single out any one program as I am a very strong believer in the rights and value of all species! To my mind, it benefits us immeasurably to have animals in our lives, no matter what kind of animal that might be and in whatever capacity. There are thousands of companion animal programs and options out there, all of which do amazing work (like therapy animals).

lovecats cowl

Caroline cuddles Bird, the cat who inspired her Tuxedo Cat colorway. Her cat Shasta (top) loves to photo bomb; here Shasta poses in front of Calico Cat yarn.

I focus on animal rescue programs because they work directly to save lives. One of the great ways I found to get involved in supporting all sorts of companion animals, and all sorts of animal rescue efforts, is to support Best Friends Animal Society in the United States. Their motto, “Save Them All,” is perfect. While they do a great deal with cats and dogs, their mandate goes far beyond just these two species, including horses, burros, birds, rabbits, goats, pigs, and more. Not only do they have a very large sanctuary of their own, but they also work with hundreds of local organizations and humane societies around the country, supporting them as needed. Thanks to the widespread nature of Best Friends’ work, it means the donations we make to this organization can filter down to many, many other groups.

As for adding to our roster, we do make other individual donations! When we have the resources and find a group that needs a boost, we are always more than happy to help in any way we can. This year we will be adding some new-to-us rural rescue groups in Canada, and we are always on the lookout for where we can best help. And of course, we will keep adding new colours to our collections so we can keep participation in this very worthwhile endeavor interesting and fresh!

There’s a final thing that I have found really important to ME about what I have done with animal rescues, and it’s something people miss so much of the time when talking about these issues, but I saw it so very clearly at work with the group I was a part of. Animal rescue benefits animals—it saves their lives—but it also benefits people, too. I saw many people fostering who were lonely, who had health issues, who were not part of a social group for whatever reason. Being a foster home and being involved in animal rescue is hugely meaningful for those people, so I would say that in some cases, it saves us as much as the animals we rescue. That’s a very powerful thing!

Editor’s note: Read the story of my cat Ursula, whose beautiful coloring inspired Caroline’s Silver Tabby Ursula yarn. Ursula’s feral mother probably gravitated to my house because a well-meaning neighbor put out food for stray cats. However, because nobody sent these cats through a TNR program, his generosity created a vicious cycle of more kittens, who—if they managed to survive—grew up to reproduce even more generations of kittens. Most animal advocates agree that TNR provides the most humane way to reduce cat overpopulation.

In Part 2 of this interview, Caroline will discuss her career(s) and design process. Stay tuned!

Cat-centric Kit? Yes!