It was more than 10 years ago that I spotted a familiar orange tabby looking even more lethargic than he had the day before. I had been working at a local SPCA now for a while and had become attached to so many sweet souls I had encountered along the way. This particular guy had come into the shelter bright and friendly. He had been admitted as a "stray," but I had my doubts. I had been assigned this room the day before, and as every other day, it was perpetually full of both dogs and cats who needed care. This orange guy was one of my favorites as we had bonded quickly, despite his very obvious fear of the many barking dogs, just feet from his cage. This morning he was different though. His normal enthusiastic greeting was gone and when I opened his cage, he wouldn’t get up. In an overcrowded shelter, becoming lethargic and aloof, often resulted in nothing good.
As luck would have it, the person who normally made the decisions approving animals for adoption (and denying others), was off work that day. I could take my friend George home with me if I wanted, but his medical well being and the bills that resulted, would be my responsibility. That night, as I loaded George into my car, I noticed he was smaller than I had remembered him that first day he had arrived at the shelter; the day I named him "George." His namesake George Foreman. In my mind, the two shared a big personality (and a strong love of food.
That day I was very fortunate to have found a compassionate vet and his staff who wanted to save George simply to make a difference in his and in my life. George was diabetic. Insulin would be required, multiple vet visits until he was stabilized and what was worse, his body was very weak and because he had been without insulin for so long, there was a chance he would not recover. Tears started to roll, and when I hesitated trying to muster some response, I was told that there was still a good chance for George. On top of that? The vet said he would donate insulin and some special food to get George over the worst of it.
George ended up living many years with me. He got me through several moves, job changes, a painful end of a long term relationship and a fresh start in a new one. He and our kitty companion, Devon, had been along for all of it too. She was rescued by my dad after being thrown from a moving car on a highway. Devon has been with me for 20 years now and was there to welcome George when he came into our lives.
George found his forever home with me because of some very generous and compassionate individuals who did everything they could do to help both him and I. They gave us supplies and showed me how to give him his insulin. I had rescue friends I reached out to for advice on food he should eat and if I spotted any little difference in him, I had a community of dedicated individuals that I could reach out to any time day or night.
This is the world of rescue and this is what has inspired me to make my art. Beginning in college, I began creating large scale colorful portraits of the animals I had met there at the SPCA. Some were fortunate enough to move on from shelter life to spend their lives with loving families but others were not. I made paintings of both and held onto them just the same.
Fast forward a few years and I am still creating expressive portraits of beloved pets rescued from all over. Much of my work centers in my local Philadelphia community. Specifically, my heart lies closely with those in rescue that pull from ACCT PHILLY; severely underfunded and overcrowded, ACCT is the only open intake shelter, admitting all strays and owner surrendered pets for the entire Philadelphia area. ACCT posts daily lists of the animals most at risk of euthanasia at the end of the day. Rescuers jump to find resources for funding and an experienced foster with sometimes only hours to spare.
These are the people I most admire and who inspire me everyday. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with many of these organizations and help contribute to their lifesaving missions. Yearly, thousands are raised through the paintings with money going to rescues like One Love Animal Rescue, Fishtails Animal Rescue, Non Lethal Options for Animals, PALS and more. I have a personal connection with each of these rescues. I have been fortunate to know, and sometimes even foster, some of the animals they have helped get back on their feet despite so many obstacles. Animals that come into the shelter system emaciated, hit by cars, abuse cases, they all got their fresh starts through rescues like these.
More often than not, these are the inspiring little beings that become my models. The colorfully illustrative paintings that result are captivating visually, but are also packed with a mission to tell the stories of the animals rendered. It's important to me that their essence and spirits are captured, but also that their stories are represented. In each portrait, I create a story revealing the animal's journey.
I hope that people looking at my paintings can see the dichotomy of these animals. The strength and endurance it takes to withstand the challenges that some of them have faced is more than impressive and is matched only with the goodness in the sensitivity and unfailing comforts they provide us humans. Our companion animals provide many of us with an unfaltering sense of responsibility when we need it most. Like my George, every rescued animal comes with a lesson they teach us. We learn to be better caregivers, to be better listeners by following their example, and in turn, we learn to appreciate those who are more like us than different.
Rescuers give a gift to the world each time they commit themselves to saving an animal, and down the line, their selflessness provides a friend to someone whose life is enriched immeasurably.