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Tag: painting

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)

Night at the museum

In our final days in Baltimore, Ace and I shifted from a house that was empty to one that was very full – of art, and art supplies, and things that, in the homeowner/artist’s view, could, with a little work and imagination, be turned into art someday.

Artist J. Kelly Lane, having an out-of-town house-sitting gig of her own, offered to let Ace and me stay Thursday and Friday in her South Baltimore rowhouse, which, she warned me ahead of time, had its quirks

You know you’re in trouble when you arrive to find a note titled “Weird stuff about my house…” and it’s two pages long.

You know you’re in bigger trouble when, in a house full of art works, you break one of them.

In the wee (literally) hours of the morning, I rose off the downstairs futon to make my way upstairs to the bathroom. I was stepping carefully through the darkness, but my knee hit a stand-up ash tray and knocked it over.

If that alone weren’t bad enough – it’s hard to find ash trays at all these days, let alone the stand up, three-foot high kind — Kelly had apparently applied her artistic skills to this one.

I’m guessing (and hoping) it was a thrift store find –as opposed to a family heirloom — one that, while already the perfect combination of form and function, she saw as being in needed a bit more pizzazz.

Someone, I’m guessing Kelly, had painstakingly painted both its post and the two serpents that make up its handle, which is the part that broke when it fell to the ground.

Now it’s 4 a.m., and I can’t go back to sleep. In addition to the guilt I feel for breaking it in the first place, I’m feeling guiltier yet for what’s popping into my mind:

Glue it back together. There’s a glue gun right there on her shelf. She’ll never know.

Blame it on Ace. With a dog as big as him, in a house filled with so much art, an accident is bound to happen. Right?

Staying at Kelly’s house was like spending a night at the museum. Her paintings cover the walls. Walk in the front door and you’re in what looks like a studio. Enter then next room and you’re in what looks like a studio. Keep going back and you enter what appears to be a studio.

She’s applied her flair to the dwelling, too – like the stair rail and stairway risers painted in leopard skin motif. In addition to painting canvases, Kelly paints house interiors, and she’s into a host of other crafts, like hand-made Valentine’s cards and decorating items like the stand-up ashtray whose handle is now broken.

Bad dog!

No. Making the dog the scapegoat isn’t a good option. On top of not being fair, what a person’s dog does is, in the final analysis, the person’s responsibility.

True, I have in the past blamed him for gaseous eruptions that did not originate from him, but that’s different – dogs are more easily forgiven than humans for that.

Then too, blaming him for the mishap would tarnish his image as the perfect dog. In reality, he’s not perfect – and I wouldn’t want him to be – but he comes a lot closer to it than I do. And when it comes right down to it, I – wrong as it might be – probably care more about his image than mine, except when it comes to farts.

Like a lot of dog people, I worry more about my dog – his health, his reputation, his “proper” behavior – than I do about my own self in those regards.

From previous visits, I knew there would be some risks at Kelly’s house – that a wagging tail, or Ace going into rambunctious “let’s play!” mode, could result in serious damage. As it turns out, it was I, in my pre-coffee, bathroom-seeking clumsiness — as Ace soundly slept — that sent things a kilter. And a standalone ash tray, no less – a true antique that harkens back to the days when smoking wasn’t a misdemeanor, and ash trays were respectable enough to be an entire piece of furniture.

I’d gone more than a month in our previous location – also somebody else’s house — without breaking anything. But then, it being an empty house, there was really nothing to break.

Now I must break the news, and somehow make things right.

Then, and only then, will I be able to go back to sleep.

(Postscript: Kelly was very forgiving, and didn’t seem mad at me. To find out more about her art, contact her at easelqueen@yahoo.com)

The ghost signs of Butte

Here’s my theory: The more ghost signs a town has, the more ghosts it probably has, too.

Butte, Montana, it should come as no surprise, has plenty. Of both.

Here are some of the ones that, during just 30 minutes of driving around town one day this week, we came across  – touting  cigars, beer and hotels that have all been long outlived by their hand-painted advertisements.

Flor de Baltimore was a cigar brand that appears to go back at least a century or so. I’m not sure if its named after Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland, or the city. I’m guessing Flor means flower, which isn’t the first thing that Baltimore brings to my mind, but maybe the imagery the city evoked was different back then.

Most of the signs are for hotels — long since gone, but luxurious in their day, and even fireproof, which was a good thing considering all the mining executives who were probably lighting up Flor de Baltimores in their beds.

Those were the glory days, though — back when the copper mines were thriving and Butte was a rollicking city of 100,000.

Now, only about a third as many people live here. Mining, though it still goes on, is nowhere near what it once was. You can’t find a good whorehouse when you need one (and they say the defunct one is haunted). And nobody’s drinking Butte Special Beer. It was brewed by a company that, more than 100 years old, closed in 1963.

There’s a big difference between what was in Butte and what is in Butte. Some look at Butte and see a depressing town; some see a fight-hardened survivor, a town that’s testament to man’s resiliency. Some see only its rough edges; some see its rich and colorful history, faded over time.

The New Tait hotel is not only not new anymore; it’s non-existent, but the old sign remains, as does the building, since converted into apartments.

Butte is the hometown of Evel Knievel. One of its tops tourist draws is a huge mine pit, part of a Superfund site that encompasses the historic district as well. If towns can be eccentric, Butte is — and quite proudly so.

But it’s also haunting — a place where the sun and clouds cast shadows that crawl, tarantula like, up and down its high hills; where mining has left poisons lurking, zombie like, beneath the surface.

Today, Butte is equal parts defunct and funky; gritty and, if you look hard, graceful. The ghost signs bring back memories of the freewheeling greatness that was; but they also are reminders to Butte that, in some ways, it’s a has-been.

But has-beens — and I know some, personally – seem to love regressing to the glory days, recalling better times. When the present’s not so great, the past seems more worth revisiting.

The trick is to not get stuck there — to appreciate what was, but keep looking at what could be … all, of course, while not forgetting to appreciate what is.

Before it fades away.

The art, and heart, of the dog park

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There’s a beautiful story in today’s New York Times that should resonate with dog park frequenters everywhere.

We wrack our brains to remember the names of dogs we’ve met before, then wrack them even harder to try and remember the name of the owner, and once in a while we stumble, calling the owner by the dog’s name, or vice versa.

Dick Sebastian resolved he would not make those kind of mistakes at the small-dog run in New York City’s Washington Square Park after he became a regular there a few years ago, along with his wife Susie, and his dog, Kitty.

After a visit, Sebastian, 71 and a retired surgeon, would return home, draw illustrations of the dog’s he had met and label them with their names. Later, he started bringing his chart with him to the dog run, where new dog owners started asking if he’d include their dogs on his ever-expanding artwork.

That led to Sebastian attempting less cartoony, more serious portraiture, sketching some of the dogs he had come to know. He started with a pug named Sidney, and in less than a year, he had drawn and presented, as gifts, 50 dog portraits to their owners.

The dog park crowd appreciated Sebastian’s efforts. Said one, “The fact that someone would care enough that he’d want to draw what’s unique about your dog for you …”

Sebastian was appreciated as well for his kindness, and his interest not just in other people’s dogs, but the people themselves.

He’d become a fixture, but now he’s leaving.  Sebastian and his wife plan to move back to their native Ohio this month, so that Sebastian, who has Parkinson’s disease, can get easy access to care at a retirement home.

Times reporter Susan Dominus writes:

“New York is full of ad-hoc communities based on proximity and built up around mutual affection — walk into any watering hole at 7:30 p.m. — but they often have a live-and-let-live looseness to them. While parental oversight can stifle, en loco parentis oversight can be a rare, welcome comfort in the circles of urban life,”

 ”For passionate dog people, the folks at the Washington Square Park dog run are also, it turns out, passionate people people, and there have been myriad parties scheduled in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Sebastian before they depart.”

It’s not the first time I’ve said it, and I’m not the first one to say it, but dogs — if they don’t just automatically make us better humans — certainly manage to open up the opportunities for us to be.

Dick Sebastian, it seems, recognized that — most artfully.

(Artwork: The small dogs of Washington Square Park, by Dick Sebastian)

There’s dog art … and there’s dog art

A Maryland dog who has completed 22 paintings — some of which have sold for up to $1,700 — was featured this week in the UK’s Telegraph.

Sam, a bloodhound-sheepdog mix who lives on the Eastern Shore, paints with a tailor-made paintbrush held in his mouth.

“Sam is a regular renaissance dog and his abstract paintings are all the rage with the hip New York galleries,” says Mary Stadelbacher, Sam’s owner. “He loves his painting and would happily carry on for hours if I left him to it. He loves to work in a variety of colours and layers his paintings with darker shades first and then moves on to lighter ones later.”

Stadelbacher, who runs Shore Service Dogs, took in six-year-old Sam four years ago, after he’d bounced from one shelter to another. She intended to train him as a service dog. But surgery left her temporarily without the use of her right hand.

Instead, Sam became her household helper, leaving him time to pursue painting. Stadelbacher says the dog will paint on command. Proceeds from the sales of his work — and other Shore Service Dogs — help keep the organization open, she said.

Vick dog-choking mural painted over by city

vick-mural-painted-overThe mural of Philadelphia Eagle Michael Vick choking a dog in a Dallas Cowboys uniform was painted over Friday by the city of Philadelphia’s “graffiti abatement team.”

The painting had gone up recently on the side of a “Tires ‘R’ Us” store on York Street in the city’s Kensington section.

Within a day of images of the artwork showing up on assorted blogs, the city covered it over, saying no permit had been issued for it, NBC in Philadelphia reported.

Permits are needed for murals on any buildings in the city, said Andrew Stober in the mayor’s office of transportation and utilities.

The manager of the building gave the “OK” to paint over the mural, said Stober, but Stober would not comment on who put it up or if there were any complaints about it.

Contractor charged with spray painting dog

A Georgia prosecutor says he intends to aggressively prosecute a contractor who allegedly sprayed fluorescent orange paint on a barking black lab mix that was in a fenced backyard.

“To spray paint a dog in the eye makes no sense,” DeKalb County Solicitor Robert James told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday. “It was gratuitous. The animal was behind a fence. Its really something we take serious and were going to try to make this thing right. We’re going to take this very seriously.”

Dario Harris appeared in DeKalb County State Court Tuesday on two counts of animal cruelty, a charge that could mean as much as 12 months in jail.

Harris was dispatched in March to mark gas lines in preparation for scheduled digging along the residential street. A homeowner, Jeffrey Tompkins, heard his dog, Bear, barking and then saw a truck driving away. A few minutes later, he found his dog rubbing her eyes with her front paws.

Tompkins said there were “seven individual spray marks” low on the fence about the height of the dog’s eyes.

“It wasn’t like he just sprayed one time across [ the fence],” Tompkins said in an interview Wednesday. “He [Harris] went up to the fence. He had no reason to go in the backyard.”

Harris said he “reacted to the dog coming to the gate and scaring me. It wasn’t anything intentional. I wasn’t out to do any harm. I was just doing my job.”

A vet flushed Bear’s eyes and provided antibiotics, and Harris said he would repay Tompkins for those expenses.

“This is making me out to be a criminal,” Harris said. “I’m not.”