Interview with Teresa Keiger, Graphic Designer for the Cat Fanciers Assocation

What are the out-of-the-box ways that you can help cats? How about work as a graphic designer for a cat magazine, serve on a Breeds and Standards committee, or act as a judge at cat shows? These are the many roles Teresa Keiger has taken on as a cat lover. Maybe some of them will be part of your path too….

ALLISON: What got you interested in art education and in graphic design?

TERESA: I’ve loved art since I was a little girl, but originally thought that teaching would be a ‘safe bet.’ I came from a family of teachers, and it seemed natural. As I was doing my student teaching, I realized that the educational environment had changed, and I wouldn’t be happy doing that.

I ended up being a bench jeweler for 16 years when I got out of college. It was somewhat design-oriented, and I enjoyed working with gold and diamonds. That position ended in the early 90’s, just about the time when the desktop revolution began. I went back to school to learn computer design, and was immediately hired by a commercial photography studio. I got to do some design, but the bulk of my work was retouching, compositing, and critical color matching. Fascinating work, really. We’d get a table and two chairs, but the client would need it with six chairs, and that’s where I came in.

ALLISON: Tell me about your background with cats.

TERESA: I’ve also always loved cats, but couldn’t really have one until I was on my own. I’d expressed an interest in Russian Blues and my husband surprised me with an adult for Christmas. We later got two neuters as pets, and the breeder of one said “he’s good enough to show in Premiership (CFA’s neuter/spay division) if you want to.” We’d been to enough cat shows to think that they were fun and so we did. A year or so later, we began breeding. That was in the early 90’s, and we’ve been breeding Russian Blues ever since.

I was encouraged to go into the CFA Judging Program, applied and was accepted as a trainee in 2007 and became an allbreed judge in 2012.

ALLISON: How did you land a position as CFA’s graphic designer?

TERESA: While I was with the studio, I had done some first volunteer and then some freelance work for CFA. I was stagnant where I was though. When I became an allbreed judge, I began traveling for that on the weekends, and some of it was international. Then CFA lost their graphic designer, and someone knew that I was wanting a change and offered me the position.

ALLISON: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

TERESA: I was brought on board Cat Talk magazine’s staff when it began, just as an advisor (before I was hired as graphic designer). There were issues with other folks getting the magazine out on deadline, and I was asked to take it on. I’d never produced a multi-page document like this before but I knew I could learn. I briefly shared a spot as co-editor with the magazine’s original editor, and she needed to move off staff for personal reasons. I suddenly found myself as editor AND layout artist! But I also found a several talented writers and copy editors and from that, built up an amazing all-volunteer staff who create and edit this bi-monthly magazine. We collaborate together on story ideas and issue themes. The articles show the diversity of our staff’s talents, going beyond basic feline care, to pedigree and genetic stories, feline diseases and physical problems, profiling breeds. We’ve also done some pretty wonderful interviews too, with subjects like John Bradshaw, Sandy Lerner, Ian Anderson, Simon Tolliver, and James Bowen. All that, from an all-volunteer staff (except for myself, as that falls under my role).

ALLISON: You’re on CFA’s Breeds and Standards committee. Tell me more about this committee.

TERESA: It’s one of CFA’s most important committees, as it deals with how each breed describes and maintains its standard and its rules for registration. Breed councils can poll their members yearly regarding changes in the breeds’ standards. The committee’s job is to advise and facilitate breed councils when they want to change a breed’s standard, add new colors/patterns for recognition, or change the requirements for registration for a breed/division/color. We guide them in the process, note what according to CFA and the breed’s rules for registration they can and cannot do, and advise them on how to write the proposal correctly. It’s been a huge learning curve. We’ve also written documentation for breeders on how to join their breed’s CFA Breed Council, and how to correctly write and format a proposal. It’s another huge undertaking for a volunteer position

ALLISON: What is your favorite breed and why?

TERESA: I have to say Russian Blue as they’ve been a part of my life for so long now. They’re so smart, and so bonded with their people. Other breeds: I love the large Maine Coon. They’re beautiful and always so happy to be with you. Siberians fascinate me and I’d like to have one some day.

ALLISON: How has the cat world changed since 2013 when you started?

TERESA: Well, I started with pedigreed cats in the early 90’s so let’s go with that. The internet has made a HUGE impact on how breeders, exhibitors, and fanciers connect with each other. We aren’t limited to long distance phone calls to connect with each other. And remember, the cat fancy is worldwide, so that’s a large leap first with email, and then with websites and Facebook. I love seeing cats from all over the world!

In regards to graphics and cats, prior to the desktop revolution the only way to readily promote your breeding program was via print advertising in CFA and other (mainstream) publications. Along came the internet and personal websites and suddenly everyone could share photos and information about their cats online. And it’s also one reason that we’ve seen the interest in paid print (and online) publication decrease.

What it means for me personally is that I can work from almost anywhere in the world that I have a good internet connection. I do prefer the ease and two large monitors and a Wacom tablet of my home office!

ALLISON: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about cat people through CFA?

TERESA: Throughout the world, people share the common love of their cats! We’re all reduced to “squees!” when we see a kitten. I’ve judged all over the world and it’s always the same: exhibitors adore their cats, and spectators are thrilled to look (and sometimes interact) with them. It’s a great example of the human-animal bond.

ALLISON: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned about cats through CFA?

TERESA: I have a personal fascination with how the cat came out of Africa, decided to domesticate themselves, and live alongside man and then how they migrated throughout the world and developed according to their geography. I’ve done several presentations on this at shows, and I love presenting our breeds to the public.

ALLISON: What is the best part about being a judge with CFA?

TERESA: The coolest thing that being a CFA judge has given me is both the ability to travel around the world and to interact with people (and often their cats) on a very personal level. I’ve walked through the old souk in Kuwait City with other judges and we all kept pointing at the cats that roam (and are cared for )there. I’ve seen street cats in Malaysia and Thailand that really do look like the prototypes of our Southeast Asian breeds. Because I have traveled as a guest (rather than with a tourist group), I’ve often had experiences of more ‘everyday life’ like walking and eating at local places in China, stopping at the odd shop or food stand in Malaysia, wandering the streets of Helsinki and Stockholm in the winter as the sun is setting so early.

ALLISON: How would you like to see the world change for cats?

TERESA: There’s become this mindset and shaming factor that people should not have pedigreed cats as pets. I’ve had pet buyers say to me “I feel guilty…” Folks who desire pedigreed cats do so because they offer a particular temperament and/or look that comes with that breed and also that they have a known background. They’re not “killing” another cat as that buyer would probably not have selected a shelter cat anyway (or in many cases, choose a shelter cat in addition to a random bred cat).

What I AM happy to have seen over the last 30 years is that the average cat owner is now much better educated about feline care than in the past. They’re happy to know that often/usually their cat will be altered before being placed with them, and most don’t want to declaw their cat.

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