Community Hero: Chris Cott strives to make La Jolla prettier and more dog-friendly
“I just got tired of looking at it,” La Jollan Chris Cott said of the graffiti he helps clean up around town. “We live someplace that’s just so nice. It’s just like cleaning your house. It benefits me as much as anybody.”
Cott spends an average of an hour a day cleaning up graffiti he sees while driving around La Jolla for work or errands. He uses his own supplies, which is part of the reason La Jolla resident Sunny Donald nominated him for the La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series.
Cott is “an under-the-radar guy,” Donald said. “He’s really kind and compassionate.”
Cott, who owns an airbrush company, is no stranger to graffiti. “I did professional graffiti back in the ‘80s and nightclubs by request,” he said. “I do appreciate some of the lettering, but not where it’s done. I’ve even taught ex-gang members how to airbrush so they can make money instead of going to jail.”
Seeing graffiti in an inappropriate place “sets me off a little more than the regular person,” he said. “I’m an artist by trade.”
When Cott sees graffiti while driving around, he’ll stop to clean it up, he said. “Ninety percent of the time I have the time.”
He sprays on a graffiti remover first and wipes it down. If that isn’t enough, he’ll repaint the object.
“I’ve got every color you can imagine in the back of my van,” he said, “from gray for poles to silver and white for the back of signs to the dumpster blue, green, white [and] black.”
Cott said he persists despite sometimes being mistaken for someone performing community service after committing a crime.
He said he also helps the police identify and catalog the graffiti in case someone is eventually caught and can be charged.
Cott also has painted things such as utility boxes and the bridge at Coast Walk “because it’s things I look at. Getting a pat on the back is kind of funny because honestly, I do it because it makes my world better. I’m glad it makes somebody’s world better.”
“If nobody does anything, it just gets worse,” he added. “I’m not alone. I’m part of a bigger picture. There’s plenty of people picking up litter every day. There is a great group of people that care about where we live. And why wouldn’t you? There’s very few places on this planet that are better than La Jolla.”
Donald said Cott also deserves recognition for his efforts to return lost dogs to their owners and establish a fenced-in dog park here. “Whenever there is a lost dog in La Jolla, Chris is the first to offer help,” she said.
Cott, who has two dogs of his own that accompany him everywhere — a Yorkshire terrier named Jackson and a miniature schnauzer named Gus — said he’s caught more than 100 dogs that escaped from their yards.
“I’ll drop everything, because it’s stressful for the dog,” he said. “It’s mainly for the dog, [to] get them back as soon as possible so they are not stressed out.”
Cott said he owns a scanner to scan a found dog’s identification tag or chip. “Then I call the scanning company and give them my information and the owner calls me. And then there’s tears of joy. It’s awesome.”
He said he helps the owner secure the area where the dog escaped. “I’ve installed dozens and dozens of spring-loaded gates for people just to keep the dog safe.”
He’ll often take dogs to his house while he waits for the owners to claim them. “They got treats, we got toys,” he said.
It’s a habit that follows him around the world. “I’ve chased dogs down in Hawaii, in Belize,” he said. “I lure them to me. I’ll even lay down on the ground and they come up to me and I’ll get them and get them home.”
Cott said he has been trying for years to get a fenced dog park established in La Jolla, but “as much as there’s support, there’s opposition. There’s people who don’t like dogs.”
He said he’d like to see part of Starkey Mini Park or the La Jolla Bike Path near Via del Norte set aside for dogs to play freely.
“Dogs are a different beast off the leash” he said. “They get to run, they get to exercise, they are more social with the other dogs. They can be really protective when they’re on the leash. No one wants to pet a barking dog.”
Donald said helping people is just what Cott does naturally. “He’s not doing these things for anybody to praise him,” she said.
The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. Nominations for this holiday season have closed. ◆
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