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David Emery

Painted Cats? It's a Spoof!

By February 12, 2007

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Some folks are irate, others are perplexed, and many are downright incredulous after viewing a widely forwarded email containing dozens of photographs of ordinary housecats whose fur appears to have been painted in a variety of decorative colors and designs (examples here). "I donít see how a cat would remain still to have themselves painted. This can't be genuine," objected one reader who found the email entitled "Painted Cats" in her inbox earlier this week. "I find this dangerous and abusive," wrote another.

'Why Paint Cats' by Burton Silver and Heather Busch - source of emailed images of 'painted cats'I'm happy to report that there is no cause for anger or alarm. Though the cats are real, the paint jobs are not. Most if not all of the lovingly Photoshopped images came from a tongue-in-cheek volume entitled Why Paint Cats: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics (Ten Speed Press, 2002), written by New Zealanders Burton Silver and Heather Busch, the same pair responsible for the equally deadpan Why Cats Paint (1994) and Dancing with Cats (1999).

Silver, a well-known cartoonist, was also the co-author of What Bird Did That: A Driver's Guide to Some Common Birds of North America (1991) -- actually a compilation of photos of bird droppings presented as a "handy glove compartment guide enabl[ing] the motorist to identify quickly which species created which display on the windshield."

You get the idea. Excerpts from these works can be viewed at the so-called Museum of Non-Primate Art.

From cats painting to painted cats

In media statements the authors are careful not to admit that the images were doctored. "We never comment on the techniques used to create our art, because that's not the point of the work," Silver said in a 2002 newspaper interview. "We see our role as that of encouraging discussion amongst readers and provoking them to question their value systems." The author has spoken more candidly on other occasions, however. Of the earlier book, Why Cats Paint, which purports to be a critical examination of artworks created by cats, Silver said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, "It's a spoof. A cat is totally its own person, like an artist is totally his own person. You can't force a cat to paint."

Nor, as anyone familiar with feline ways knows, can you force a cat to be painted. And that is the essence of the joke.

Further reading

All About Cats - From cat care expert Franny Syufy
Why Paint Cats Home Page - Reader comments, pro & con
Museum of Non-Primate Art - More about painted cats


February 13, 2007 at 11:08 am
(1) tabbie says:

The gullibility of people never ceases to amaze me!

February 13, 2007 at 12:45 pm
(2) Jasondabuckeyefan says:

This may find its way on to the podium for discussion and debate for the 2008 presidential election! It IS UNHOLY!!

February 14, 2007 at 8:42 am
(3) Sandi says:

We ALL know we can’t believe everything we get via email, but it’s still entertaining to see clean expressions of the imagination!

February 14, 2007 at 9:31 am
(4) Hrabble says:

I’ve been painting nail polish on my cat for years! Sorry, I don’t have any pictures….

September 23, 2010 at 9:31 am
(5) Thumm says:


February 14, 2007 at 1:48 pm
(6) Paula says:

It’s sad when ppl jump to conculsions like this. I thought the photos were great. Too bad other ppl fell for it hook line and claw.

February 16, 2007 at 10:06 am
(7) Shag says:

Good info, very timely. I like to be aware but I don’t always go to Snopes immediately when I am suspicious. This way, you keep me informed in spite of my laziness.

February 16, 2007 at 10:23 am
(8) Kimmie says:

I’ve got the green & purple kitty on my desktop…it never occurred to me that it would be necessary to have to tell folks the pics were bogus; I guess it’s like the warning tag on my hairdryer.

February 16, 2007 at 12:20 pm
(9) Bob Parenteau says:

It always has amazed how people don’t think before they talk/post about subjects. I bet these same people look at models on magazines and wonder how they got their bodies so perfect. Airbrushing is an amazing conversation piece for morons.

February 16, 2007 at 1:05 pm
(10) Just Me says:

What cat would sit there that long to be painted probably via an airbrush – rates up there with a vaccum…common sense folks. One look and you can see they were photoshopped.

February 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm
(11) Don Stevens says:

So they have been painting and putting decals on turtle shells since I can remember. That’s the 1930s/40s and everybody carved their initials and date in wild box turtles before they let them go. AND people dye their hair. SO what’s the problem with cats ??

February 16, 2007 at 2:23 pm
(12) Caroline says:

Painting turtles usually makes them very sick and sometimes kills them. Turtle painting = very bad!

February 16, 2007 at 10:09 pm
(13) Lisa says:

P.T. Barnum may not have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”, but it seems to me that people who believe the painted cats, are not only gullible, but stupid not to realize that anything can be computer generated today.

February 17, 2007 at 6:06 am
(14) Glenn says:

Well when you find someone willing to paint a cat and then attempt it, please let me know so I can bring my video camera and lots of bandages

February 17, 2007 at 8:13 am
(15) ekrubtap says:

I suspect “bathing” cats is also a myth. I could have used Glenn’s services.

February 17, 2007 at 3:15 pm
(16) Kathleen (Kathy) M. Kline says:

I am no longer getting your Urban Legends Updates. Please register me for that again. My old e-mail was kkline15@comcast.net. My new e-mail is kkline15@tx.rr.com. I love this site and share it all the time.
Thank you, Kathy

February 18, 2007 at 7:29 pm
(17) kristina says:

I think it is very mean. but cute.

February 19, 2007 at 10:59 am
(18) Bertiers(artist)kenya says:

Kenyans likes seeing my paintings about cats paintings-but am happy to se there’s somebody who does it really.visit ernie wolfe gallery in calif for more paintings..

February 19, 2007 at 7:51 pm
(19) gladys says:

Are they real or fake? Who cares! They were interesting and much a conversation piece.

February 19, 2007 at 11:38 pm
(20) eating Raoul says:

Tabbie!!! go swallow a hairball!

February 20, 2007 at 2:19 pm
(21) Grace says:

You still have to admit, even if it was “digitally” done, they are still quite a work of art. Amazing.

February 20, 2007 at 7:29 pm
(22) Carolyn says:

Painted cats might be a hoax, but there is also a calendar of painted cats for 2007 which I gave as a Christmas gift. Only a few of them are the same as the email ones, so someone has a fertile imagination.

February 22, 2007 at 3:46 pm
(23) Kiuuycat says:

I find the cats that are painted are wonderful. I don’t see the problem with it if it does not hinder the cats health but either way i like to customize my things that say this is mine and im proud of it …well then i want to paint my cat but i’ll let the professionals do it though. I want a Pink and Purple stripes cat.

February 23, 2007 at 10:00 pm
(24) zentub says:

If the pictures were faked then why the refusal to show any of the work, that would be easy enough to do without giving away the hwole show, however they cannot give us one shred of evidence these were pc manipulated images. I think it is those who bellive it to be faked that are gullable. Where are the cats now then if htey are all done by one artist we should be able to see the cats in their natural state.

February 25, 2007 at 8:48 pm
(25) Robert says:

…all because cats don’t have owners- they have ‘staff’.

February 26, 2007 at 1:56 am
(26) Amanda says:

Well if you really think about it dogs, horses, cows, pigs, cats, monkeys, bears, tigers, an anyother animal that is in movies or profesionaly shown are taught to stand hours of grooming an to sit quietly while this is done, i know for a fact that in horse movies more than one horse may be used to play the same part they just dye them all to look alike ,, i am sure that the same can be done with cats after all the are intelligent,,, frankly i don’t care if it is a hoax or not as long as it doesn’t hinder the health of the cat,, secondly whom ever did the photos an came up with the idea has a great imagination ,, an they are a work of art,, an a great conversationaly piece..

February 28, 2007 at 10:33 am
(27) nikkibutt says:

what is wrong with you people? of course its real….why fake this. Everything can be painted. we paint are childrens faces on halloween and it doesn’t hurt them.god get over it.No it doesn’t hurt the cats and it makes them look cool. It does come out so i don’t see any problem. I don’t understand how anyone can call this abuse. If the cat doesn’t mind no one else should.

March 1, 2007 at 10:46 pm
(28) Fred says:

If you did this for real, the cat could never go back outside since it is now automatic kidnap bait. We’d start seeing cat skins for sale to hang on the wall. If you can do cats, why not horses? Race horses could be painted with sponsor logos like race cars. Has anyone seen one of these cats on TV or a net clip moving around? Seen any at pet shows? What kind of psychological damage could this cause if there are other pets in the house? What happens when the cat sees itself in the mirror? But the most important thought is – how would you get a cat to put up with this nonsense for the amount of time it would take? I’d want one that was missing from the group – a tiger.

March 2, 2007 at 1:32 am
(29) michael says:

I had a cat years a go. i was living the the California desert. i had a calico cat and one day she didn’t come home. she came back a few days later and someone had painter her white fur orange.

March 5, 2007 at 7:53 pm
(30) Wayne says:

I use to paint my dog to look like a Thylacine when I lived in the outback. A Thylacine is an extinct large marsupial “dog” in Australia, known as the “Tasmanian Tiger” and much folk lore surrounds it. People are actively searching for it so hence the joke.

March 6, 2007 at 9:08 am
(31) Feline Servant says:

Clearly not real – not if you have ever tried to give a cat a pill – never mind paint its face! But beautiful all the same, in a wierd kind of way! would love to see more of these.

March 8, 2007 at 5:11 pm
(32) Vita says:

Oh for heaven’s sake. Just enjoy the fun of these pics! Cats are far too intelligent and proud to allow any human to really paint them anyway.

March 9, 2007 at 10:51 pm
(33) Meow Meow says:

My cat, a bigger version of the cat in Shreck 2 would go Freddy Krueger on the person before they could say “nice kitty”

March 14, 2007 at 3:37 pm
(34) Tara Greene says:

I love cats. I used to make Cat Pins, and was known as the Cat Lady in Toronto years ago. I think this is faked photo shop. No cat would sit still for this unless drugged.

March 24, 2007 at 10:48 pm
(35) amused says:

Does it really matter that much? So if it was faked it was a fun project. If it was real, i highly doubt that the persons involved would be guilty of animal cruelty, these are obviously pamperd felines. P.S. my kitty does not like baths, but my sisters kitty loves to be vacuumed…….

March 26, 2007 at 8:54 am
(36) Bill says:

Turn off your computer- get a life- bend over and actually pat the “real” cat by your foot.

March 27, 2007 at 8:25 am
(37) Kush says:

email me at demskoluvr4lyfe@yahoo.com to see some painted cats

March 28, 2007 at 5:22 am
(38) iamgod says:

dude….where is the point in painting a cat?? its isn’t right to do something like that ffs..y don’t u all get a life and just love your cat for they way it is you weirdos!!!!!!

March 30, 2007 at 11:14 am
(39) SusieQ_KatMa says:

Hmmmm! I can’t get my cats to stand still when I groom them LOL. Painting my cats — I’m still laughing at the idea anyone can believe these photos are real. For you people gullible enough to fall for this, let me introduce you to the one and only true religion. Click on the website http://flyingspaghettimonster.org

April 21, 2007 at 10:08 am
(40) Anonymous says:

It’s sad that we live in a day and age where someone walks onto a college campus and takes numerous lives before taking his own and we see it as just news. Words like, “amazing” and “incredible” are used to describe him. And according to the comments on this page, someone who believes that people are sick enough to do this to innocent animals is “gullible” and “stupid”. Jesus, grow up. Anything is believable at this time in which we live.

April 28, 2007 at 4:57 pm
(41) Baylie Lee says:

Yah…about this…i dont think i really can believe it…
baylie lee

April 28, 2007 at 4:58 pm
(42) haylie chick says:

Hey i am going to not agree with some of you and just say this could be TRUE.

May 3, 2007 at 9:40 pm
(43) Sibbery says:

Well, I think he cats we are seeing here are just like models. They are getting all the attention just becouse they were ‘airbrushed’. If anyone owns a cat here, give it a pat. Even if it hasn’t been painted. And another thing.
getting the cat to sit whilst being painted would be easier than expected, as they could be trained to sit for long periods at a time, if they could get food afterwards.

May 9, 2007 at 11:43 am
(44) just another person who recieved the pics in an e-mail says:

I personally agree with anyone that says they were a work of spectacular artistic genius. I mean, sure the photos might or might not be digitally altered, but that doesn’t mean that we all can’t just try to enjoy them, and the cats in the photographs look pretty healthy to me. So even if they are real or not I don’t see how this could be animal cruelty.

May 9, 2007 at 11:59 am
(45) just another person who recieved the pics in an e-mail says:

Following up on my last comment I’d like to say that cats love attention, and anyone saying cats can’t sit still is obviously incorrect. If people can train tigers, and a menagerie of other things then i don’t see how they couldn’t train a domestic housecat. Come on on the subject of P.C. manipulation of the photos i think that it is possible (but not probable) that cats could be airbrush painted I mean why not? It looks like the epitomy cool to me.

May 9, 2007 at 12:20 pm
(46) loyal friend to anything of the "felis" genus says:

iamgod, go shove everything you said up your ass, where your head is. P.S. anyone stupid enough to use iamgod as a nickname online is a sinner, and a nazi.

May 9, 2007 at 12:32 pm
(47) faithful friend of all species in the "felis" genus says:

anyone who said anything bad you have I.Q.s under 50 and if you used 1337 chat you have an even lower I.Q.

May 25, 2007 at 11:40 pm
(48) Edward says:

I was inspired by the book “Why paint cats” so I took cat painting up as a hobby. If you want your cat painted, just drop me an email and we can make arrangements.

June 1, 2007 at 2:03 pm
(49) Paige says:

These Cats are soo cool!

June 1, 2007 at 2:04 pm
(50) Hannah says:

These are the coolest cat ever!

August 27, 2007 at 3:54 pm
(51) alex says:

I think you are the biggest, cruelest man alive!!!! Listen here you wanna-be big shot, just think if you were just sitting there minding your OWN buiness,someone drove you some place, sat you on a table, and someone came in and started to paint you!!!!!! You make me sick!!!!!!!!!

September 10, 2007 at 3:29 am
(52) Karen says:

u know if u say orange slow enough it sounds like gullable.. ok so how many ppl tried it lmao.. but i for one thought the painted cats were real maybe i should say orange slow lol

October 12, 2007 at 12:49 am
(53) Scott says:

Whatever. It can be done. I bathe my cat weekly and blow dry her, she sits there and lets me do it. She’s all white, and I’ve decided I’m going to paint her after seeing this email. I had been thinking about shaving something cool, but painting her would be way cooler!

February 15, 2008 at 9:39 pm
(54) Maybe... says:

I’ve seen maybe five painted dogs in the last two years. I know people who do dog painting in thier grooming salons. they get cats in to groom sometimes. (Usually if the cat is nasty the owner will take the cat to the vet to get them shaved instead, coz they will sedate them there) and letting your cat remain with knots is painfull sometimes can cause so it is nescessary. So the cats that come in to be groomed are usually pretty friendly and sit still. these grooming salons won’t take nasty pets. They change the blade before it gets too and if the cat is willing to sit still and be petted and groomed on and off for two hours, then i’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to paint one.

And For the Angry Critics. they use Vegetable dye and Non-Toxic paint.
So if you want to have a go at someone have a go at De Cart and the Hypocratic Oath. A Nutty Religous man who believed animals didn’t have a soul and that it was ok to torture them coz they don’t feel pain and the screams are just a reaction of thier bodies. Which was the start of decades of cruel experinments.

November 8, 2008 at 5:47 am
(55) 3mm!Ly says:

Its just not in nature for cats you Fkn Morons

November 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm
(56) Cat painter says:

I think that’s too bad. I’m rather disappointed it’s not real and choose instead to continue believing it is. All you people intent on disproving all the fun things technology can offer need to lighten up.
Painted cats are a marvelous idea! I’m forwarding the email to everyone I know! :)

April 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm
(57) savannah deceen says:

i can’t believe people would even joke about this!! it is feline abuse!!! ABUSE!!! its not even funny some people are just sick!

June 26, 2009 at 4:57 pm
(58) jordan says:

I hope all the cats die!!! I hate them!!!

June 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm
(59) Jordan says:

I hate cats and I hope they all die!!! I ran over 4 last week!!!

October 30, 2009 at 3:48 pm
(60) Trish says:

I am amazed at how dumb people are. It’s from a book, they are fake, the authors admit they are fake. It’s a JOKE. REMEMBER JOKES? HAHAH, FUNNNY FUNNY? Who watches SNL and believes the sketches are real?? Get a sense of humor! Idiots! IT’S A FREAKING JOKE!

November 9, 2009 at 7:29 pm
(61) Tom says:

Well, I’ll admit it got me. Spidey-sense failed me.

Two points in defence of those who may have bought this:

1) The ‘shops are pretty well done.

2) If you’ve seen what people will do to their pets for dog and cat shows, this is not outwith the realm. The crazy things they do with bobbing ears and tails, crazy haircuts, pedicures, etc…. this could have fit within that. Some of that stuff has to be unpleasant for the pet but they get forced to endure it.

I just assumed they’d come up with a reasonably harmless airbrushable dye that was non-toxic and that it was applied cautiously and patiently. I further assumed these particular cats were placid – I’ve had a couple who might actually have let you do this to them.

Further, I’ll bet that within a decade, someone finds a way to make this feasible, whether it be a nanotechnic solution or some other mechanism, like gene-tailored kitties. The ludicrous of one age becomes the fashion of the next.

April 30, 2010 at 10:37 am
(62) Brent Polson says:

I’ve painted my horse – for real! He’s naturally very dark chestnut/black and I put a white flame job like the you’d see on a 1950′s style hotrod.
It was done carefully using the right amount of liquid nitrogen and a small sponge. In farming liquid nitrogen is used to brand cows instead of a hot branding iron. But you still have to know what you are doing – You can really hurt the animal if you apply the nitrogen in one spot for too long. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! Thanks. Brent in Lockport, Manitoba, Canada

August 15, 2011 at 1:40 am
(63) Sarah says:

you all commentors are retarded, throwing the ‘do not believe everything what you read’ back on itself. I paint my male Albino Siamese mix (blue-eyed/red pupils) rescue ccat, Beau, all the time. It’s Hilarious, it doesnt hurt him, he doesnt mind, and it washed off easily. i have the pics to prove. Have a nice night

March 16, 2012 at 5:36 am
(64) Benjamin David Steele says:

I have no evidence about whether these particular cats were painted or not. In fact, no one has provided evidence proving they weren’t painted. Just using commonsense, one would have to assume it would be possible to paint a cat, if one so desired to do so. On the other hand, anything can be hoaxed, even an apparent hoax can be hoaxed. You could paint cats and then convince people you didn’t paint them, just for shits and giggles.

Anyway, cats can be trained and are trained on a regular basis: for animal acts, for commercials, for tv shows, etc. Training a cat to sit still while you painted it would be one of the simplest tricks to teach a cat, especially considering most cats enjoy sitting still and most cats enjoy getting attention.

Of course, it would be easier to photoshop a picture than paint a cat, but it’s easier to do lots of things. There are plenty of cat owners who would be willing to go to the effort of painting a cat or else willing to pay money to have someone else do it. People take their cats to professional groomers all the time. I know people who trim their cats claws and the cat will sit still. I know people who wash their cats and some cats even like the water.

Only someone who knows little about cats would think painting them would be impossible.

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