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Compassionate Nature

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  • | 4:00 a.m. April 21, 2011
  • Sarasota
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Joan D’Avanzo is only halfway in the door when two bundles of energy — a border collie mix named Molly and a Rhodesian ridgeback/German shepherd named Nina — bound forward to greet her with wagging tails and kisses.

The dogs, both rescues, tumble through the house and beg for belly rubs long after D’Avanzo finds a spot to sit on the back deck. She opens an album layered with photos and newspaper clippings of celebrities and U.S. presidents and their pets.

Pointing to a photo of Bernadette Peters and her pup, D’Avanzo reflects on how the album began. After retiring after 22 years of teaching high school on Long Island, N.Y., she started volunteering at an animal shelter. She said it was difficult walking by the animals that were wearing tags and knowing they would be euthanized because of lack of room at the shelter. That sparked her idea of creating an animal compassion living quilt to help animals in shelters. “Living” refers to the fact that the quilt creation is ongoing.

“The purpose is to draw attention to the plight of homeless animals, but I wanted people who have had an impact on society to be a part of it,” D’Avanzo said.

D’Avanzo sought out celebrities such as Betty White, who was one of the first people to sign the quilt, and asked them to sign their names on a 4-inch-by-4-inch muslin square and send it back. White did return the signed square, along with a photograph of her dog.

“When I first started the quilt, it was generally for dogs and cats,” D’Avanzo said. “But my own personal awareness through the journey has led me to be much more sensitive to the plight of elephants and tigers and how we as a society treat them. The quilt is a great way to let people become more aware about the shelter world through the arts.”

To date, more than 100 people, including three U.S. presidents, artists, writers, humanitarians and actors, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, author Maya Angelou, actress Susan Sarandon and actor/television host Bob Barker, have signed the quilt to show their support for animals.

Harry Connick Jr. signed the quilt while here during the Sarasota Film Festival. Local celebrity Stephen King is next on D’Avanzo’s list. She carefully selects fabric that represents the person who signed it to surround each muslin square. She’s already chosen a “dark and surreal” fabric for King’s square. It reminds her of his novel, “Cat’s Eye.”

D’Avanzo originally envisioned a king-sized quilt, but is now three times the size — and is still growing.

Accompanying the quilt is list of biographies of those who signed it and information regarding the importance of spaying and neutering animals and the humane treatment of animals. She is now looking for a local store or business to display the quilt.

“I knew the quilt was an unusual form to raise awareness, but I thought because it was signed by such familiar people who have dedicated themselves to the society through entertainment, arts or military career, it would work,” D’Avanzo said.

Joan D’Avanzo is currently searching for a place to display her animal compassion quilt. Contact her at [email protected].






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