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Tag: louisville

An Act of Dog: A memorial to the millions of shelter dogs put down in America


It’s easy to ignore statistics. They’re cold and dry and lack soulful eyes. And when the numbers are overwhelming — like the 5,500 unwanted dogs who are put to death daily in U.S. shelters — we tend, as a rule, to find life is more comfortable and less depressing when we don’t do the math.

Louisville artist Mark Barone is an exception to that rule. Rather than ignore the problem, he decided to put a face on it — 5,500 of them, in fact.

For two years now, he has been painting portraits of dogs who have been put down at shelters across the country, and he’s more than halfway to his goal: 5,500 portraits that he hopes will someday — unlike their subjects — find a forever home.

Barone and his partner, Marina Dervan, call the project “An Act of Dog.”

Their hope is the works will someday be displayed in a permanent memorial museum, which — between its emotional impact and the funds it would help raise for no-kill rescues and shelters – could help lead to their larger goal,  a no-kill nation.

Mark, a well-established artist, had moved to Santa Fe when, about three years ago, he lost his dog of 21 years, Santina.

“It was kind of a sad time, and I thought it would be therapeutic for Mark to go to the dog park,” Marina recalled. “I thought it would be helpful for him to get some dog love, and it was. It was really great. It got me in the mood to think about adopting another dog. Mark wasn’t at that stage, but it didn’t stop me from looking.”

Looking for adoptable dogs online and at local shelters, she quickly learned the sad reality that she says neither she nor Mark, up to then, were aware of — that millions of dogs in need of homes are put down at shelters every year.

“Instead of finding a dog, I found out all these horrifying statistics,” she said. She shared them with Mark, along with images and videos of dogs who had been, or were on the verge of, being put down.

He asked her to stop sharing, but she kept up.

“If we don’t look at it, nothing will change,” she said. “So he looked at it, as painful as it was, and day or two later, we were standing in the kitchen and he asked me the number of dogs killed everyday in the country … I gave him the number 5,500, based on statistics from Best Friends.”

It was then that the idea of honoring shelter dogs by painting 5,500 portraits of those who had been killed was born, and along with it, the longer term plan of a memorial museum, along the lines of the Vietnam Memorial and the Holocaust Museum.

First, they started looking for the studio space to get started on the task, mailing out inquiries in search of a city or town that might offer free space for him to paint.

Santa Fe wasn’t interested. Louisville was among about 30 places that were.

That’s where the couple lives now, and where Mark has completed about 3,200 of the portraits — some of them life- sized, some of them larger.

“It’s the big ones, 8 feet by 8 feet, that slow things down,” Mark said.

Only one of the 8×8-foot paintings depicts a dog who died a natural death — Mark’s dog, Santina. According to Marina, Santina will serve as the gatekeeper of the exhibit. Other large portraits feature  Batman, a 10-year-old pit bull who was left outside in 21 degree weather, and was found dead at a shelter the next morning, and Grant, who was deemed unadoptable due food bowl aggression and put down.

The large paintings — there will be 10 of them — will include the individual stories of those dogs, representing the most common reasons shelters give to put animals down.

“It’s pretty much the wall of shame,” Marina said.

Mark and Marina are still looking for a permanent place to house the works, and for sponsors and benefactors for the museum, and they have some promising leads, both in Louisville and around the country. In addition to being an educational center, the museum would also be an outlet for selling merchandise that features the images – shirts, cards, and other products. An Act of Dog, which is a nonprofit organization, would pass on all profits to no-kill facilities and rescue groups.

The dogs in the paintings come from shelters all around the country. Their photos are submitted by rescue groups, volunteers and shelter employees. They have all been put down.

Mark and Marina object to the use of the term “euthanized” when it’s applied to healthy animals. “Deliberately ending the life of a healthy and treatable pet is killing.  Deliberately ending the life of a medically hopeless and suffering pet is euthanasia,” Marina said. They don’t much like “put to sleep,” either.

“Semantics are a powerful way to keep people from the truth and our mission is to show reality without the candy wrapping,” she added.

Mark paints everyday, from sunrise to sunset. At night, he and Marina work on the An Act of Dog website. They’re both foregoing salaries at this point.

Mark has served as a consultant to cities interested in using the arts to revitalize blighted areas, among them Paducah, Kentucky, and its Paducah Artist Re-locaton Program. Marina worked 20 years coaching corporate executives.  

Now they’ve cashed in their retirement savings and are devoting full time to the project.

“We could turn away and pretend like we didn’t see what we saw, or we could do something about it,” she added. “If that means we have to live poor,  we’re OK with that, because we know we did something.”

They’re working now in studio space provided by the Mellwood Art Center in Louisville, where they did end up adopting a new dog, named Gigi, from a local shelter.

What drives the couple, though, are all the dogs who don’t get out alive — the thousands put down each day.

“The no-kill movement is making strides, but not fast enough,” said Mark who, on those days he doesn’t feel like painting, reminds himself of the bleak numbers, and the 5,500 reasons — every day — he must continue.

To learn more about An Act of Dog, and how to become a sponsor or benefactor, visit its Facebook page or the An Act of Dog website.

(Photos and video courtesy of An Act of Dog: At top, a collage of Mark’s paintings; Mark and Marina in their studio; some of the larger paintings, with Mark’s former dog, Santina, at left; and three shelter dogs dogs Breeze, Freckles and Sky)

Dog thrown off bridge doing well, arrest made

A Louisville man with a lengthy arrest record has been charged with second-degree cruelty to animals for allegedly throwing a pit bull off the Clark Memorial Bridge into the Ohio River.

Damon D. Bledsoe, 39, of 210 E. Ormsby Ave., was arrested Tuesday morning and arraigned Wednesday.

suspectFour witnesses contacted Louisville’s Metro Animal Services to report that Bledsoe allegedly spoke of throwing the dog off the bridge, and allegedly threatened to do the same to a witnesses’ cats.

The dog survived the 80-foot fall to the river and was adopted by a waitress at a nearby Joe’s Crab Shack who witnessed the rescue.

Court records show Bledsoe has been arrested on 99 separate charges since 2002, ranging from domestic violence to disorderly conduct to theft to public intoxication, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Kelsey Westbrook, the waitress who adopted the pit bull and named her Sunny, said the dog has recovered from her minor injuries and is “as happy as she can be.”

“She’s a 60-pound lapdog. … She’s got a little bit of separation anxiety, which I think is expected given what she’s been through. I think she trusts me now and knows I’m not going to leave her or put her in danger.”

Earlier this summer, Westbrook faced the loss of her apartment because she had adopted the pit bull, but she said the building got a new landlord who has let her and Sunny remain.

Dog’s rescuer could lose her apartment

Leave it to lawyers, landlords and insurance companies to screw up a perfectly good story.

Last week we told you about Kelsey Westbrook, the University of Louisville senior who helped rescue a pit bull that had been thrown off a bridge, then went on to take the dog, who she named Sunny, home with her.

Now comes word — in the Louisville Courier-Journal — that, if she keeps the dog, she may lose her apartment. The company that owns the building has a policy against “vicious breeds,” and has told her that she is violating her lease by having the dog on her property.

Westbrook, a waitress at Joe’s Crab Shack, ran with other employees to the shore after the dog was seen being thrown off the bridge and hitting the water roughly 80 feet below.

As the employees attempted to call the dog to shore, Louisville firefighters arrive and pulled her from the Ohio River.

Westbrook also owns a 2-year-old German shepherd mix named Nala and pays a monthly fee to keep Nala in her apartment. Westbrook said apartment officials told her she can’t make the same arrangement for Sunny because they consider the pit bull a “vicious breed.”

Westbrook said apartment officials gave her two days to remove Sunny from her apartment, and told her they will be conducting random inspections. Her boyfriend is keeping Sunny at his house until she decides what to do.

Since the property company is only following it’s own addle-brained rules, most likely designed at the request of its insurance company, we won’t go so far as to compare their behavior to that of the soulless, heartless wretch who threw the dog off the bridge.

But we will provide you with an email address, in case you want to:

Arete Real Estate, which owns Westbrook’s apartment, can be contacted at Apartments@areterealestate.net.

Waitress helps pit bull thrown from bridge

louisvilleAn unwanted pit bull who was thrown off a bridge and into the Ohio River survived the 80 foot drop and was showing no ill effects other than a swollen belly.

Now Sunny, as she’s been dubbed, is temporarily lodging with Kelsey Westbrook, a server at a nearby Joe’s Crab Shack, who was one of those who coaxed the plucky dog towards shore.

Witnesses said a white Chevy Malibu had stopped on the bridge moments before the dog was tossed, according to a report in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Westbrook, a University of Louisville senior, said it appeared the dog had recently given birth.

Workers at Joe’s Crab Shack said the dog made a loud smacking sound as she hit the water. Westbrook and two other servers ran to the riverside, encouraging the dog to swim to shore. As the dog got within 20 feet, Louisville firefighters at the river for dive team training launched a boat and pulled her to safety.

“I wanted to give her some hope, to let her know somebody was waiting for her,” Westbrook said. “I was afraid she would give up and drown.”

Diners erupted into applause as the dog came ashore, then wolfed down three three hamburgers before going home to Westbrook’s  apartment.

The dog, which Westbrook named Sunny,  appears less than two years old. The red pit bull quickly became friends with her  two-year-old German Shepherd mix. Westbrook said she hoped to help the dog find another home.

“I took the dog because I just wanted to help her,” the English literature major said. “I don’t ever want her to feel pain again.”

(Photo: By Scott Utterback, The Courier-Journal)