Natalya Zahn

Photo by Kimberly Wang

Last week we kicked off a new blog series where we'll be introducing you to the stylish, big-hearted, dog-loving people (volunteers, all!) behind our weekly Pack breed newsletters. This week our spotlight series gives a glimpse into the life of our Rhodesian Ridgeback newsletter curator Natalya Zahn and her carb-hungry companion, Oscar Dog. Natalya is a freelance natural illustrator from Cambridge, MA. In addition to hand-picking adorable finds for the weekly Ridgeback Pack newsletter, Natalya also keeps a blog of beautiful recipes and stories about Oscar at oscaratemymuffin.com.

Oscar is a very handsome 8 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback. Tell us about the day you met Oscar.

I "met" Oscar via photos that were sent to me by his breeder, at my request. I had been crushing on Ridgebacks for some time, and when space opened up in my life for a puppy I went straight to the RRCUS listings of East Coast breeders, where I found a lovely woman in upstate NY with a litter on the ground. And this wasn't just any litter - these puppies were sired by the #1 Ridgeback in the country that year; when I saw that dog - "Ruger" - I fell head over heels in love and knew I had to have one of his offspring.

Oscar was one of 4 ridge-less males in a litter of 12, and since I had no interest in showing, I was more than happy with a pup from the "discount bin" (to this day he still has no idea he doesn't have a ridge - and as far as I can tell, none of the other RRs we've met have noticed either!). Oscar matured into a spitting image of his sire, and in every possible way he has been one of the most dedicated friends and important teachers I've ever had.

You keep a blog for Oscar at oscaratemymuffin.com where you post beautiful Oscar-friendly recipes and illustrations. Can you tell us about how you came up with the fantastic name for your blog?

When I brought Oscar home as a pup I was working full time as a designer for a small children's clothing company in Vermont. My boss graciously allowed me to bring the little rascal in every day, so he wouldn't need to spend hours and hours in a crate, and he grew up with an office environment as his second home. He was actually a marvelous office dog - quiet, friendly, just enough of a distraction to be useful when things got a bit too intense… his only real failing (and it persists to this day) is that he can't control himself around unattended food. If you have a sandwich in your hand, he'll just sit and drool in front of you, but throw out the bread crusts and his head will be in the trash can cleaning up the remnants in no time.

Natalya Zahn

At some point Oscar made it his morning ritual to stroll through the whole office (all 2 floors with 15-ish employees) every morning - to "say hello"... and more importantly, to collect any breakfast remains that happened to be discarded in unprotected wastebaskets. Every once in a while, he'd cruise by a station with no one sitting at it, but an irresistible breakfast treat (muffins were a common choice) sitting idly by a keyboard, waiting for it's owner's return from the rest room or fax machine. After a few frustrated exclamations of "Oscar ate my muffin!", it became the kind of humorous tagline you just can't help but brand a blog with.

What's a typical day for a professional natural illustrator?

For better or worse, my days can be delightfully non-typical. I spend most of my working hours in my studio (just across town), where Oscar accompanies me always, but time in front of my drawing materials or computer is balanced with client appointments and mini field-trips to collect inspiration and reference imagery for current projects.

Natalya Zahn

As an animal illustrator, one of my favorite places to visit is Boston's Franklin Park Zoo (trust me, I have the same reservations about zoos as anyone - but they also serve critical roles in conservation and wilderness education, and those initiatives are more important now than ever). A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with a videographer friend on a little film following "a day in the life" of my illustrator self, and we chose a zoo day to film on. It may not represent what I do day in and day out, but the resulting clip I think really sums up where my heart is regarding what I do for a living (plus it's filled with animal close-ups - which is always entertaining!)

You and Oscar live in Cambridge, MA. Where are some of your favorite places to visit with Oscar in your city?

When you get truly settled into a place, some of your favorite things become the most mundane: Oscar and I have lived in the same neighborhood for 6 years now and I rather love our somewhat regular stroll to the corner bakery each morning - I get a coffee or tea, and Oscar gets a little "star cookie" (somewhat like almondy gingerbread). After that, we walk through the outrageously beautiful side streets surrounding the Harvard and Radcliffe campuses - I love it, but residential charms don't phase Oscar. If he could answer this question he'd map out every gardening shop and liquor store that has (or ever once had) a box of Milk-Bones under the counter... now those are some favorite places.

What's new in the life of Natalya? Do you have any big plans for the summer?

The life of a freelance illustrator can often be stressful and unpredictable, but those same challenges go hand in hand with wonderful surprises, and the joy of unexpected successes. I was incredibly honored this month to have two terrific projects released nearly simultaneously: a 2-page illustrated feature in the new summer issue of The Bark magazine, and an essay I illustrated for The Ridgeback Register (the premier breed magazine for the Ridgeback world). You can read about both here.

I'm feeling very fortunate to be looking forward to a number of exciting new projects this summer as well, including the start of my first illustrated monthly editorial column, and a rather large botanical illustration contract that has me over the moon, but I can't talk much about it quite yet! Mix in the demands of regular dog-blog upkeep, portrait commissions and personal projects, and I'm hoping I can still set aside adequate time for grilling and chillaxing with Oscar Dog before the snow flies again!

If you had to pick one word to describe your relationship with your dog, what would it be?

Ridiculous.


See more of Natalya's work on her portfolio website: natalya.com
See more of Oscar Dog on his blog: oscaratemymuffin.com