Considered “a convention like no other,” RESCUECON enforces the human-animal bond with two days filled with activities, including bunny yoga, a Crazy Cat Lady exhibition, visual and performing arts, hands-on workshops and professional speakers.
Attendees will learn, play and explore — and, above all, refresh their relationship with animals and each other.
“There are conventions about animal welfare, and then there are pop culture conventions, but rarely, if ever, do the two meet,” said event organizer Carolyn Mullin of Ventura. “RESCUECON has thoughtful content, lots of heart, and tons of room for learning, exploring, connecting and having fun.”
Presented by the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center, RESCUECON will take place Feb. 23-24, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“In putting together RESCUECON, a convention where animal welfare and the arts intersect, we wanted to create a memorable and rejuvenating experience that was fun, fresh, out-of-the-box, and inspiring,” Mullin said. “And we want to make sure that everyone, no matter how involved they are in rescue or how much they care for animals, was welcome to attend and find their niche . . . or a new furry family member.”
With that mind, she noted that RESCUECON is a two-part event: There is a free adoption fair open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and also a ticketed convention chock full of activities, speakers and fun. Two-day admission costs $40; single-day tickets are $25. A percentage of ticket sales will benefit Ventura County Animal Services and its foundation.
Bunny Yoga, Yappy Hour
The adoption fair features nonprofits including Ventura County Animal Services, SurfCat Rescue and the Bunny Brigade, who will bring animals in need of forever homes. Additionally, attendees will have the opportunity to meet representatives from other local nonprofits, such as the California Coastal Horse Rescue, and learn more about what’s going on in their own backyards.
“Perhaps there’s a great volunteer opportunity for them, a potential field trip location, or an issue that they’ll learn about that calls them to action,” Mullin said.
Also free for the public is access to an animal-friendly marketplace, Crazy Cat Lady Exhibition and Cat Café.
“Following the exhibit, guests can enjoy a cup of Joe and meet the special-needs kitties of Surfcat Rescue,” Mullin said. “For those folks ready to take the next step, learn more, go deeper or just do something wildly different that weekend, the convention is just the ticket.”
Each morning kicks off with bunny yoga, an optional activity. If attendees get hungry, they can try plant-based bites from local food trucks Evolution Burger or the Wandering Pie.
Beyond the event’s keynote speakers, such as The Kitten Lady (Hannah Shaw) or Ellie Laks, founder of The Gentle Barn, there will be breakout sessions on topics featuring cultural anthropologists and veterinarians, world renowned artists and photographers and local rescue heroes.
Laks, a resident of Santa Clarita, will share her experience in animal rescue over the last 20 years, and talk about how “everyone can be a rescuer in their own lives.” She’ll also be signing copies of her book, My Gentle Barn.
“I’m hoping to inspire people to care more, do more and know that we are more powerful and impactful than we think we are,” Laks said. “As individuals, we can all change the world for the better.”
An event like this is so important, Laks added, because we all need to band together to protect our beautiful planet and everyone in it, human and non.
“We all need to work harder to be more aware, care more and be part of the solution for animals,” Laks said. “In saving animals, we save the planet, and in saving the planet we save ourselves. So it all is important to each of us.”
Ventura resident Cappi Patterson, president of the nonprofit Buddy Nation, will talk about the importance of this organization, which helps the homeless with veterinary bills and other costly services for their pets while they’re living on the streets.
“They will see how every single person can help in some way,” Patterson said. “We take calls seven days a week and into the evenings, answering every call and doing something about each one, even if only a referral, which we then follow up.”
Attendees can visit a dedicated craft room, with supplies donated by Art From Scrap in Santa Barbara, where they can crochet a sweater for a bunny, build a cat castle of cardboard or other activities.
“In our commercial kitchen, attendees can discover and make healthy treats for their animal companions or learn how to have a waste-free kitchen with the Martha Stewart of plant-based goodness, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau,” Mullin said.
Additionally, a “Yappy Hour” in the courtyard will round out the day with music and time for mingling.
“Our hope is that this weekend is a time for animal lovers to connect and build relationships which in turn strengthens our local rescue community,” Mullin said.
Art exhibitions and live performances
In other offerings, the theater lobby will host the Crazy Cat Lady exhibition, first shown in Los Angeles and curated by “bonafide cat lady” Lisa Levinson, works to dismantle the cat lady stereotype.
“The exhibit celebrates the women and men who dedicate themselves to the plight of felines,” explained Mullin, noting that visitors will learn that cat ladies play a very important role in society, including spaying and neutering feral cats.
Throughout the PACC, local artists will have their animal-inspired work displayed, thanks in part to the Ventura County Arts Council. This includes photographer Sophie Gamand’s Pitbull Flower Power Series.
“The portraits celebrate these dogs’ inherent personality, vulnerability and individuality,” Mullin said, “and have not only led to hundreds of dogs finding loving, forever homes, but have spurred efforts to de-stigmatize an animal whose reputation for violence says more about us than the characters of the dogs themselves.”
There will also be about 25 vendors from across Southern California, including Sweet Cedar Jewelry Design by Barbara Remick out of Santa Barbara.
“Most of her jewelry is animal themed and speaks to the human-animal bond — a perfect fit for RESCUECON,” Mullin said.
Events like these can be a bit overwhelming, “so we’ll have a special chill out spot where folks can sit or knit with a pit, featuring pit bull mixes from Ventura County Animal Services. We’ll have yarn and crochet needles for guests eager to make a sweater for a pittie,” she adds.
“Grittier and more realistic”
Before joining the city of Oxnard and the PACC, Mullin spent the majority of her nonprofit career in animal protection, working and/or volunteering for both national and local organizations.
“Event planning and creating a dynamic culture and community for these organizations was at the core of my efforts,” Mullin said.
During the hiring process in Oxnard, she was asked to put together a sample community program, “and I pitched a convention much like the one we’re bringing to fruition now.”
“For the city and leadership to be supportive of this type of event was refreshing and truly exciting,” emphasized Mullin, further noting that Chelsea Reynolds, director of the PACC, is also an avid animal lover, guardian for a rescued pit and enthusiast for the arts and pop culture.
“Together, we’re really overjoyed to present an event that’s dynamic and one of a kind,” Mullin said.
The goal is “pretty multi-pronged,” she continued.
“First and foremost, we’re excited to present original programming that highlights the arts and builds a strong connection to our community at large,” Mullin said. “We hope that folks will learn a thing or two, be inspired to do more for animals and, ideally, make a dent in pet overpopulation.”
Some animal conventions “are all glossy and more about pampered pets,” Patterson noted. “This one will be grittier and more realistic, asking for community involvement, whatever community a person lives in. Showing how things can be accomplished and how each person can make a difference, have an impact.”
Our local shelters and rescues are at the seams with animals in need of homes, and wildlife and farm animal groups are overwhelmed with calls and the issues at large, Mullin added.
“Simple choices and actions can help animals of all kinds,” she said. “We’re honored to be creating a fun and engaging platform for all of these discussions.”
Performances for Pets
In other unique offerings, Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey, who reside in Vienna, Austria, will present Performances for Pets, which they describe as “an interspecies performance specifically for cats or dogs.”
This effort started in 2014 and the two have since performed for more than 150 different cats and dogs across European cities.
“We meet the pet(s) and their owner and find out about the character and any special likes and dislikes of the pet and adapt the performance to the particular pet and space,” Bailey explained. “The performance itself is a mixture of mimicry, body and mind techniques imitating various forms of non-human voice and body languages, empathizing with possible meaning or connection with our audience.”
For RESCUECON, they will present performances for individual dogs, or groups of dogs if they are accustomed to one another.
“The performance is for the dogs’ entertainment and their human owners are welcome to also watch,” said Bailey, noting that a performance for dogs is typically 15 to 20 minutes long. “From a human perspective, what we do looks like a hybrid between dance, theater and performance art, but for pets, the distinctions between dance, theater and art are not so relevant.”
The duo has come up with routines in collaboration with their pet audiences, as well as cat and dog therapists-collaborators Bina Lunzer and Petra Ott, also from Vienna.
Above all, they hope their presence at RESCUECON shares “a unique interspecies experience with dogs and their owners.”
“In seemingly inhuman times, our relationship to animals reminds us of our humaneness,” Bailey said.
RESCUECON takes place Feb. 23-24 at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. For tickets and more information, call 805-799-0381, email Carolyn Mullin at email@example.com or visit www.rescuecon.org.