Archive for the ‘Clients’ Category

One of our most favorite clients is Jay. Jay, a dedicated volunteer at the Washington Humane Society,  ordered custom pet portraits and/or gift certificates for several of his friends long before we finally had the pleasure of creating works of art for him of his THREE beautiful rescue dogs, Katie, Trina, and Shula.

So we were very sad to hear from Jay recently that Shula had passed away. Then on his facebook page Jay shared his many memories of Shula and we were so touched by it we asked if he would mind if we shared their story here. I considered editing it down to just highlights because yes, it is long, but in re-reading it I decided the whole thing is a highlight… Shula was such a character!  We hope you’ll enjoy reading about her adventures as much as we did:

Our best friend Shula left us today.

We have had three dogs for many years, and Katie and Trina are dear to us too.  Both of us had dogs and cats growing up.  But throughout our lives, there has never been a pet that has so taken our hearts like Shula.  She was incredibly special and since the day we adopted her on April 12, 1997, she has shaped our lives more than I ever believed was possible by a pet.

Her passing was peaceful – a choice we made for her because we could do it for her.  Making that decision was agonizing and hideously painful for us.  The tears have been flowing all day, and will likely be for many days and weeks to come, but we are thankful we could ensure that she would not have to linger in pain.

But I don’t want to think about the end.  Frankly, that really bites (pun intended).  She had one really lousy day today, but I’d like to share the highlights of the other 5,400 days – her nearly 15 years of vibrant and energetic life since her birth on December 1, 1995.

We knew we wanted a dog.  We lived in Richmond at the time and we already had two cats and they were….well….cats.  And we thought we needed more “energy” in the house.

Little did we know that the new addition would have enough energy to light up New York City!

We checked out a few rescue groups and were matched with “Hope”, a Lab mix.  But in the end, the group didn’t think we were “fit” to have a dog in our home because we both worked.  It didn’t matter that we had already arranged for a dog walker to visit a couple times a day.  So we started over and connected with a different rescue group.

We got the call on April 10.  The rescue group told us to meet them at a local Ukrops Grocery Store where they would be showcasing several pups that were available for adoption.

When we arrived, we were presented with a shaggy tailed male Beagle.  We were told some other folks wanted him, but since we had called earlier we could take him if we wanted.  I was ready to go – this match must have been the right one.

Rick had other ideas.  He had spotted a beautiful mixed breed female being taken for a walk.  And he fell in love immediately.  She was a Husky mix – prancing, regal and beaming with the energy we were looking for, from her perked ears to proud upright tail.

This rescue group thought that maybe the Beagle was more appropriate for us.  He was laid back, not very energetic and very docile.  Shula, they explained, had lived in four homes already in her first 16 months of life.  Folks had a hard time controlling her and she was a challenge.

We like challenges.

And so it was that Shula came home with us.  She didn’t hesitate to jump into the back of my brand new Honda Accord, excitedly anticipating a ride to somewhere fun.

So excited, that before we had even gotten out of the parking lot, she filled the backseat with pee.  We drove back to get some towels to clean up the mess and the fosters had a very worried look.  “Did you want to return her?” they asked.

I was very confused.  Who would return a dog because they made a mess?  Comes with the territory.  But that was the beginning of my awareness of how callous and shallow some people are about animals.

“No!” we both said.  “We just need some paper towels or something.”  A look of relief crossed the faces of the fosters, who I guess had seen the worst character traits of humans.

All dry, we headed home and Shula happily took control of her new family.  Total control.

Shula was an alpha, the most alpha of all alphas.

So big and bold was her personality, she needed a collar to match it.  Early in our time together we wandered into a “Big Dog” store and found a purple collar with “Large and In Charge” stamped all the way around it.  We bought it, of course, along with the matching leash.  She wore that collar (or it’s exact replacement) every day of her life.

One of her alpha traits was her odd habit of lifting her leg like a male dog and “marking” every tree, sign, fire hydrant, bush, rock, well….everything!  And then she would “rake” the grass, digging up dirt and gravel along with it to cover whatever scent was left by others.  She also “raked” in her own yard and we lamented that we kept the grass seed companies in business every year with our futile attempts to have a lush lawn.

When we took her for a walk, took her to a friend’s house, or let her play in the park, every other dog immediately recognized her as the pack leader.  She never once barked, growled or became aggressive.  She was just the boss.  And every dog that came into her sphere was happy to follow her.  In their canine minds, they seemed to believe that Shula knew all the ancient secrets as to why dogs were secondary to humans and that maybe, just maybe, she was the one to lead them back to the glory days when monuments were built in their image and they were heralded as gods.

She didn’t do any of that, but our Shula – “Shu-bear” was our affectionate shortened version – surely had fun.  And other dogs would leave her company exhausted and their guardians would report they slept for days afterwards!

Shula was a dog that needed a lot of exercise and play, especially in the early years – meaning basically the first decade.  This was not a dog that would “slow down” or mellow out, and until her final months people who met her thought she was still a puppy.

One of the benefits of a dog is you get more exercise.  On this front, Shula was better than any trainer.  For the first three years or so, at 5:00 on the dot – every morning – she was ready to go.  She didn’t bark to let you know she was ready.  Instead, she jumped up on the bed and aggressively tried to push you out of it with her head.  If you resisted, she rolled all over you and the bed, tail wagging and play-growling, and then grabbed one of your limbs in her mouth and dragged you until you showed movement.  She was not to be ignored!

Trying to get dressed was pure sport for her. Until her final months, one of Shula’s greatest joys was doing her best to prevent you from actually getting your legs into your pants.  There were many times in the early years – when she was exceptionally strong – that we shook morning grogginess off as we fell face first onto the floor while Shula was attempting to pull our pants off.  It was her game, and we were expected to play.

After the struggle to dress, it was down the stairs in a flash with Shula barking loudly and constantly to get you to move faster…faster…faster.  It was never – ever – fast enough.  And you could try to yell over the barks to get her to quiet down, but that provoked even louder exaltations.  She was ready to go.  We tried walks around the lake, and she liked those.  But they weren’t satisfying enough.  So we added a bike ride to the routine.  For as many miles as we could peddle at that early hour, Shula eagerly participated.  But in actuality, she led.  However fast we could peddle, she still managed to stay true to her Husky DNA and pulled us like a sled.  Trees and signposts presented unique challenges, usually with Shula patiently waiting for us to collect ourselves after the spill and get going again.

Rick vividly remembers the first time he took Shula for a bike ride.  The rescue group had given us a prong collar, and they encouraged us to use it to keep her under control.  But we thought that was cruel, so we kept it off of her.  On the first bike ride, Rick was on a gravel road, leash in one hand, the bike’s brake in the other.  Even though he was braking, and going uphill on the gravel road, he was still accelerating and going faster and faster because Shula was pulling him along.  Before going any further, he went back to the house and got the prong collar.  We realized at that point that the collar wasn’t harmful and, even with it on, Shula was still incredibly strong and able to pull us behind her.

Rick is also a runner, so taking Shula with him was great fun for them both.  On the streets of our Richmond neighborhood, he would jog along the street and Shula would run on the curb – the narrow four inch curb that lined the yards of our and neighboring west end subdivisions.  She didn’t like sidewalks, she stayed off the grass, and she didn’t care for blacktop.  Her job, as she saw it, was to run as fast as she could, pulling Rick behind her and never – ever – losing her balance on that little cement track.

If we were successful in getting her the right amount of exercise, she would sleep well at night.  We bought several different types of dog beds because we weren’t sure which would be the most comfortable.  But, thankfully, she let us sleep in the people bed with her.

Again, though, it was on her terms.  She was most comfortable sleeping length-wise on the bed, creating a sort of “H” with her two human companions barely hanging on to opposite sides of the bed.  Her middle of the night stretch might send either one of us onto the floor.

This misery lasted for over a year until we decided it had to stop.  Between the six inches of space we each had to sleep and the 5:00 am wake up calls, quality of life was slipping.  So we knew exactly what we had to do.  We had to show Shula who was actually in charge.  So we went out and bought a king size bed.

That helped, as did the times in the middle of the night when she jumped down to crawl under the bed, always at the head of the bed.  This was her cave and she spent a lot of time there when she was at rest.

Her favorite “game” involving the bed was bounding into the room just as you put fresh linens on.  She dearly loved to surprise you and roll around on the sheets and wrap herself in the blanket.  And just when you composed yourself after complete shock, she was off in a flash, crouching at the door encouraging you to chase her.  This “game” lasted her entire life, in one form or another, but always involving her rolling around on the clean sheets.

Of course, as every good pet parent knows, in the beginning boundaries needed to be established.  So first, Shula decided to crate train us.

Just like children, every dog has a different personality.  And this dog’s personality didn’t like to be contained.

The training manuals say that dogs learn that their crates are their own homes, an area they can go to for security.  Many will go into their crates at night because they are most comfortable there.

Shula didn’t read those manuals.

We had to drag her to the crate, shove her in, fight to close the door as she attempted to scratch and push her way out.  And then – like any good Husky – she howled.

She had us figured out from the start.  We both left dejected every day, feeling horribly guilty about leaving her in that metal container.

We were told that she would adapt and get used to her crate.  She never did.  And after a few episodes of coming home to some blood on her paws from her attempts to escape during the day, we decided that it would be better to let her have the run of the house.  We would train her to behave.

Well….$12,000 in damages later, we realized that wasn’t going to work either.

Shula liked to chew wood, and anything that was hard – like shoes, electric razors and television remote controls.  So once again, Shula trained us.  We became much more tidy, ensuring that nothing was left out and that we put everything out of her reach.

But we couldn’t do that with the furniture.  Or the stairs.  Or the pickets on the staircase.  Or the window sills.  Or the doors.  Or anything else that is part of a house.  So over the next three years, regardless of how many chew toys and rawhide bones she had at her disposal, her tastes continued to be far more refined and she made her mark in our house.  Everywhere in our house.

Thankfully when Katie came along in 2000, she didn’t like to chew wood.  Unfortunately, however, she reveled in the sound of fabric tearing – like curtains and bedspreads and furniture.  By the time we moved to DC in 2001 our house looked like it had (barely) survived a tornado.

While I always knew the dogs were the responsible parties, I always wondered if our two cats were somehow complicit as well, perhaps egging on the canines so they could revel in watching them get punished.

Poco and Dash, our two felines at the time, always enjoyed putting Shula in her place.  While she would have happily played with them, they preferred a much more relaxed environment and they did not care at all for the bundle of energy who had intruded on their serene living quarters.  Every so often one of the cats (usually Poco) would slink upstairs while the other remained on the first floor.  Almost telepathically, the cat on the floor where Shula was hanging out – chewing a bone, destroying a stuffed animal or keeping us company – would approach her, hiss and swat at her unprovoked.  Shula, the alpha with other canines wasn’t a fan of this feline aggression and took off, generally in the direction of the stairs, where the other cat laid in wait.  Not wanting to confront either, she would get stuck in the middle, whimpering her surrender while the cats flashed their Cheshire smirks of triumph.  On more than one occasion, our “Large and In Charge” girl had to be rescued from the clutches of her “Small and Scheming” housemates.  We wondered if this went on more frequently when we weren’t at home.

At the end of every workday in the early years I distinctly remember thinking with dread what new bit of damage we would discover.  But all those concerns faded quickly with Shula’s greeting.

It was the same every time.  She would be staring out an upstairs window when we drove up.  By the time she heard the key in to the door, she had moved to the top of the stairs where she waited.  When the door opened, she let out her Husky howl of happiness and literally wiggled down the stairs with a howl-bark that sounded something like “where…have…you…been…all…day….and…what…are…we…going…to…do…now?”  Tail furiously wagging, she greeted you by standing on her hind legs, putting her paws on your shoulders and licking furiously with an ear-to-ear smile.  Whatever the damage was, it was now mitigated.

That didn’t mean we didn’t scold her.  We did every time.  When similar problems occur with our other two pups, we scold and they are mortified.  They are eager to please and quickly learn not to do it again.  The tone in our voice is quite enough.

Shula was a lot smarter than that though.  She literally tested limits and we are very sure she calculated the risk versus the reward.  Banishing her to her crate didn’t work, the rolled up newspaper didn’t work (obviously just another toy), rubbing her nose in it didn’t work, and raising our voices didn’t work.  We read all the manuals and talked to all the experts.  This dog’s personality was just different.  And she was always ready to have fun – on her terms.

One of her favorite chew toys was any pen she could get her teeth on.  We were careful to keep them off the tables, but Shula learned she could somehow get up on the desk chair if we left it pushed out and reach over onto the desk and take a pen out of the penholder.

On one memorable Saturday morning, 5:00 just wasn’t convenient.  More sleep was absolutely required, even though Shula was raring to go.  So, she was banished from the room.  Without human interaction and being locked out of the room, Shula decided to entertain herself.  When I awoke at 8:00, I felt better than I had in months.  I thought, “Wow…that dog is really great.  She knew I needed to sleep so she didn’t make a whimper.”

And then I opened the door.

It looked like the Smurf’s dog had been walking all over the white carpet on the landing, other bedrooms and up and down the steps.  Shula had found a blue felt pen, which she delightfully chewed to smithereens, and must have been so delighted with her work she felt the need to walk the now very dead pen all around the house.  Blue paw prints were, quite literally, everywhere, because the ink from the felt had been transferred to her paws, staining them and the hair on her legs while she held her struggling victim.  Sitting at the threshold to my room was a very happy dog, wagging her tail with blue fur from the tips of her paws to her elbows.  She was clearly so proud that she had found a way to entertain herself.

Many times we would come home to find a large ink stain and blobs on the carpet.  But for whatever reason, we could never seem to find all the pens to keep them out of Shula’s reach.  She, however, never had a problem locating them.  I think she kept a stash somewhere so that she never ran out.

After about three years, Shula seemed to have focused her attention more on rawhide bones than expensive furniture.  That was a relief, but this change in focus made us a little less on guard.

One afternoon, I had gone shopping for some much-needed ties and dress shirts.  I had saved up for months so I could get what I needed – a whopping $500 worth.  Since we had a dinner to go to that evening, I ran home to take Shula for a quick walk and feed her.  And then I ran out the door.

Somewhere between leaving the house and arriving at the dinner I remembered I had left my new purchases in the shopping bag at the foot of the stairs.  But I wasn’t too worried.  After all, Shula had at least a dozen rawhide bones to keep her happy.

When I came home, the house looked like Bourbon Street after Mardi gras.  Shula clearly had delighted in shredding every single new tie and shirt, as well as the tissue paper and paper shopping bag.  That time, I was truly speechless.  And I found out that telling the Visa folks “the dog ate it” isn’t part of the purchase protection program guarantee.

She really did love to know what was in any bag that you brought home.  She clearly understood that our role as humans was that of the hunter and, therefore, anything we brought home was surely part of the kill and she was entitled to it.  Two steps into the house, and Shula’s nose was buried deep in any shopping or grocery bag as she checked out what treasures we had brought for her.

Occasionally, we would bring home a stuffed dog toy and put in on the top of the bag.  She KNEW that was for her, and she would happily throw it in the air, catch it, and prance away to delicately and lovingly rip its guts open in order to destroy that vexing squeaker that was buried deep inside.  And once the operation was successful, the toy was useless and tossed aside.  We have piles of such toys with open chest wounds in the dog’s toy box.

As we got to know each other the first few months, Shula taught us a few things about Huskies.  First, Huskies don’t actually shed.  They explode.  Twice a year.  Her undercoat was so fine that her wispy hair would be practically suspended for days throughout our house every spring and fall.  But the first “shedding” was the worst.  We went through two vacuum cleaner bags a day for weeks cleaning up the mess.  Every shedding season since has seen bags and bags of hair that we combed out of her coat.  We could have made a mattress with all that hair.

The second thing she taught us about Huskies is that they are basically wolves.  And they like to play like wolves.  No gentle tug of war with these pups.  No, if you were on one end of a rope toy and she on the other, the more violently you shook the toy and growled just like she was doing, the happier she was.  And then she wanted to roll on the floor with you.  Her playful “mouthing” of your arms and legs never broke the skin, but it didn’t exactly feel like a Swedish massage either.  She could roughhouse for hours, allowing you to push her away (hard) so she could charge back at you, roll around in front of you and expect you to rough her up.  It was sheer joy for her.

When Katie came into the house, Shula was thrilled to have another pup with which to roughhouse.  She would grab a stuffed animal (“Wubbie” was her favorite) and shove it into Katie’s face.  Katie, just eight months when she arrived, would of course immediately chomp down on the toy, but Shula didn’t let go.  She started play-growling and shaking the stuffed animal back and forth so violently that I thought she was going to put Katie in traction.  And then, growling and shaking all the way, Shula would back up and pull Katie with her in a constant and never-ended tug of war.  This could go on for 30 minutes or more without pause or either pup releasing the stuffed animal.  Shula would hunker and walk backwards and Katie would move forward – into and around every room, up the stairs, down the stairs, continuing to move through the house.  I never understood how Shula knew exactly where every door, table, chair, sofa, bed (under which Shula would drag the toy with Katie attached back out the other side) was located behind her.  The noise and growling would accelerate and we always wondered if a fight would occur.

It never did.  At some point, we either intervened (because we couldn’t stand the cacophony anymore) or Katie decided she was done with the game.  Shula would then give the toy a final shake and sit down with a sheepish grin, her fur soaked from drool and sweat, wagging her tail with a look on her face that said, “Gosh that was fun…can we do it again?”  The tug of war went on, without any notice or provocation, for years – really until she was around 12.  The intensity and duration waned, but Shula’s determination never did.

The third thing we learned about Huskies – at least ours – is that swimming is second nature to them.  We lived on a lake in Richmond and spring through fall, we played water fetch with a tennis ball until our arms felt like rubber.  We would throw the ball as far as humanly possible and Shula would catapult herself 15 to 20 feet off the shore, cannonballing into the water and swimming faster than a shark to nab her prize.  Then she would bring it back to us and bark excitedly and incessantly until we threw it again.  Over and over and over again.  It was never once or twice – that would have been heresy.  The record was over two hours, and she never got tired, but we were nearly crawling back to the house.

We also would visit the James River with a couple of our friends and their dogs.  While the other dogs would pad along the shore and occasionally paddle in the still waters, Shula preferred the rapids.  We didn’t expect it the first time she launched herself into the swirling, churning water.  We both almost had heart attacks thinking she was done for.  But she started pumping those muscular legs and swam right back to us – against the current!

We tested her some more to make sure she knew her boundaries.  And of course, for Shula there were none. Once, she chased a tennis ball downstream in extremely swift rapids.  We had thrown it upstream, and she began to swim after it.  But it got by her and we were startled and frightened when she chased it past us downstream.  When she finally caught up with the ball, many yards away, she then turned and made her way back to us successfully fighting the churning and rolling current.  We were stunned, but relieved our girl was so strong.

The ocean was a different story.  The first time Shula saw the Atlantic she vibrated with excitement.  This big bowl of water was going to be a big challenge to dominate, but Shula had no hesitation that she could accomplish the mission.  So, for hours upon hours, Shula would chase a ball into the water and literally body surf back to shore.  It was pure nirvana for her, until later that night.  When it was time for bed, Shula kept pacing and whining.  She couldn’t get comfortable.  We panicked because surely we had overdone it and she was having a heart attack.  The vet had the correct diagnosis – a sprained tail.  As she was “body surfing”, the waves were pushing against her tail and, like the trooper she was, she played through the pain without ever letting us know.

Shula’s strength, energy and skill complimented her desire to never be contained. One day, we asked a friend of ours in Richmond if we could leave Shula with her dog in their backyard, which was surrounded by a wooden seven-foot privacy fence.  As we returned from our errands to pick up our girl, we watched as Shula bounded over the fence – feet never even brushing the pickets – on a mad chase to get a squirrel that must have caught her eye.  As we panicked and ran after her, she finally made her way back to the same yard and waited patiently for us to get back.

After we moved to our current home (which we bought specifically for the dogs because it had a big back yard) and Shula was seven years old, we thought the four-foot chain link fence would be more than enough to contain her.  But no, our neighbor, who loved her greatly, was always chasing her down after she jumped into his yard and he carried her back to deposit her in ours.  So up went a solid wood, seven-foot privacy fence around our yard.

Because of our previous experiences with Shula’s Underdog-esque flying abilities, we still were unsure the new fence would be sufficient.  Once, when we decided to take a much needed weekend vacation, we asked a friend to dog-sit for us.  At 7:00 the morning after we arrived in Florida we got the dreaded call:  “I don’t know how to tell you this, but Shula got out.  She’s just gone.”  In between calls to other friends asking them to go to the house and help search and buying emergency plane tickets home later that morning, I was in a state of absolute panic.  I was over 1,000 miles away and my poor girl was out wandering around with no idea where she was.  I was miserable and could do nothing until I got back home.

Turns out I didn’t really need to worry.  Another friend who came to assist in the hunt had been a previous dog-sitter for us.  When she arrived she asked if the current holder of the not-so-fun job had looked under the bed upstairs.  The dog sitter didn’t believe Shula could be in the house because she hadn’t come back inside when he called.  But somehow, there she was – content in her “cave” and not bothering to respond to calls.  In reality, she was probably sulking because she didn’t get to go on our big adventure.  Our friend called off the search, the other friends who were helping were able to reclaim their weekend, and we attempted to enjoy the next two days away from the chaos.

At the lake in Richmond, there were trees everywhere.  And with trees came squirrels – hundreds of them.  In Shula’s mind, they were clearly put on earth to do nothing but torture her.  And when I saw one basically laughing at her through the French doors as she was going ballistic, I began to think they actually did have a conspiracy to drive her crazy.

But she retaliated in kind.  Most days, she would take off so quickly out the back door the leash would jerk right out of your hand.  And the next thing you knew, Shula was trying to climb a nearby tree in a valiant attempt to bring down the dreadful vermin that was making her life so miserable.  She never succeeded there, but when we got to McLean, at about 11 years old, she proved that the old girl still had plenty of game in her.

One morning, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shula waiting to come back into the house after her romp around the back yard.  She was no doubt ready for breakfast.  As I began to open the door, I saw something gray on Shula’s face.  When the door was fully open, I saw that Shula, tail proudly wagging and ears perked in a sign of self-satisfaction, had a squirrel draped between her jaws.  He was quite dead, but I let out a yell nonetheless.  My Humane Society sensibilities were conflicted – this was pure instinct for my beloved dog, but a poor innocent squirrel was now dead.  In the end I did what any good dog parent would do – I had a long conversation with my girl, explaining that I was proud of her prowess, but that she shouldn’t take the life of another animal.  I’m pretty sure she understood because she never did it again.  And actually – no kidding – her interest in chasing squirrels quickly faded.

It wasn’t just the big furry squirrels that got Shula’s attention.  The tiniest creature could drive her to distraction as well.  We lived in a condo when we moved to northern Virginia before we found our house in McLean.  One night Shula’s ears perked up and her head cocked back and forth as she looked at the wall in the bedroom, almost like she was hearing voices.  We didn’t think much about it until we came home the next day to find she had attacked the walls and torn massive holes into the drywall and obliterated the windowsill.  Shula had found termites, and she made sure we knew we had to get them taken care of.

In Richmond and at the condo, we wanted to make sure Shula was getting the exercise she needed.  So occasionally, we would let her off her leash so she could run – like the wind – and get the pent up energy out of her system.  We always were able to get her to come back to us, and most of the time she stayed under control.  But in the first six years or so, she perfected the “head fake”.

When it was time to go in, particularly when we were in a hurry, Shula would pretend to be doing exactly what we wanted.  The key was in the door and the knob was turning and Shula’s face and nose were pointed toward the door as if she was ready to head right in.  And then her body would dart off in another direction as she magically slipped out of her collar and was happily sprinting to freedom.  As we would run and yell to get her to come back, little did we realize that she was giving us the best workout we could imagine!  You’d think we would have learned her tricks after so many years.  But she always seemed to prove that she was smarter than us.

Walks and back yard romps were fun enough, but nothing excited our girl more than a trip in the SUV.  Shula absolutely loved to go for rides.  And she made sure you knew exactly how much she loved them.  From the second she got into the back, she barked happily and loudly.  Most of all, she wanted to drive.

Our other two dogs like to look out the back of the SUV to see where we’ve been.  Shula liked to look out the front window to see where we were going.  And she thought she should take us there.  Her mission throughout the entire trip was to try to get into the driver’s seat – right on your lap if you were sitting there.

She didn’t care for the passenger seat, and certainly not the back seat.  She knew that the driver’s seat was where the action was if you wanted to control the trip.

We bought a net to separate the far back from the rest of the SUV.  She managed to get through that.  We bought metal bars that stretched across the back, creating a barrier.  But like a bug she somehow squished herself to get through those bars.  We finally resorted to keeping her attached to her leash and tying it to a metal hook in the back.

Much like kids play the ABC game in the car, Shula liked to play the Bark at the Truck game.  How this dog knew the difference between a truck and a car continues to mystify me to this day.  But she did.  Panel truck, pick-up, semi, SUV – they all got a deep and sharp bark and snap, as if she was somehow going to stop the vehicle in its tracks.  Cars and motorcycles got no such treatment.  They were allowed to silently go by.  The noise generated thanks to the trucks, however, made us crazed.

We were determined to get her to quiet down.  The first time we made a 20-hour trip to Florida with the dogs nearly drove us to an asylum.  So we had a great idea for the next trip – we’d get the vet to prescribe a medication to sedate Shula.

The result was not the peaceful bliss we expected.  Instead, every truck that went by got a drunken howl-bark of an acknowledgement.  It was kind of humorous, at least for the first seven or so hours.

But that was Shula – a big, bold, larger than life personality.  You always knew she was there.  In the yard or on a walk, she pranced.  In the house, she stayed close.  If you had friends over and were carrying on a conversation, there was Shula, staring intently at whomever was speaker with her head resting on the coffee table.  That was one of her funniest habits.  Whenever she was around others, she never liked to lie down for fear of missing something.  So she would sit with her head and snout resting on whatever was available – coffee table, chair, sofa, step, or a willing human’s leg.  She never wanted to miss what was going on around her.

As she aged, she seemed to get more regal and more beautiful.  She filled out and never ceased to captivate any human with whom she came into contact as she looked at them with her almond-shaped brown eyes that were so full of life.  She loved humans and seemed to want to be one of us, always happy to mingle at a party at our house, or greet a visitor or passerby on the street with a tail wag and friendly approach.

We loved to take her places.  When I worked at the Governor’s office, the Capital Police knew her well.  She greeted them enthusiastically when she joined me on the weekends and they returned the friendly hello.  Folks in the other buildings I worked in over the years also got to know her as she joined me for late night or weekend work.  I wanted to give her the stimulation she needed by taking her out, but honestly, I also really enjoyed having her nearby.  She was a good distraction.

One event she attended to which I especially looked forward every year was the Washington Humane Society’s Bark Ball.  The event features 600 humans and 400 of their canine companions.  Shula always enjoyed meeting new pups, giving them the gratuitous hindquarter sniff that is the signature of the world of dogs.

As Chairman of WHS, I would give a few minutes of welcome to the audience.  And I always took Shula up on stage with me.  She proved to be quite the ham.  She actually seemed to enjoy “performing” for the crowd and one year, when I was passionately making a point while gripping the podium, I didn’t notice the leash I was holding had gone slack.  Soon the crowd was giggling and guffawing, and I finally saw Shula – strutting across the stage having slipped out of her collar with the tried and true “head fake”, eagerly wagging her tail in response to her fans.

In earlier years, she would have likely bounded off the stage and jumped on as many people as she could before being confined.  But now that she was past 10, she was more dignified.  Not slow by any means, but she seemed to believe she had to set an example for her other four-legged friends.

Her leadership skills came out in unexpected ways.  When we adopted traumatized Trina after she survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Shula acted very differently than we expected.  Any dog that came into the house was usually greeted with a “let’s play” crouch and high-pitched bark.  But with Trina, who was a shivering mess for the first two weeks she lived with us, Shula gave her space.  She stayed in close proximity, but never approached her until it was obvious Trina was ready.

Once that happened, they were friends for life.  Trina always waited to see Shula’s reaction before she approached any person or thing.  If Shula thought it was acceptable, Trina eventually did.  Once again, Shula proved herself to be the consummate pack leader, and made sure her prodigy was melding into our family – and the rest of the world – at the pace with which Trina was comfortable.

Dogs weren’t the only members of the pack that Shula welcomed.  When we brought baby C.J. home, we weren’t quite sure how Shula would react.  After all, Shula always got the most attention.  She didn’t miss a beat.  When we put the bassinette on the floor, Shula immediate sniffed C.J.  We were kind of thankful she didn’t try to “mark” her!  But she was just fine with her new sister.  When the baby was lying down or on the play mat, Shula would often lay beside her.  As C.J. grew and became curious, she would gently pet Shula.  If C.J. tugged on Shula’s hair, Shula would growl a little and move away.  We never worried about their interactions because we know that in Shula’s mind, she had another member of the pack to watch out for.

Our Shu-bear was always loyal and devoted to us from the start, which made it easy for us to be loyal and devoted to her.  Never the sweet, cuddly mutt that our other two dogs tend to be.  No, Shula had presence and personality.  She was truly one of a kind.  But no matter how many people she came in contact with, she was always our girl.  She had to be around us at all times, whatever we were doing.  If we were changing a light bulb, Shula was sitting at the base of the ladder.  If we were cooking dinner, she was hanging out by the stove.  If we were sitting at the table eating dinner, she had her head resting on one of our legs.  If we were planting in the garden, she was lying beside us as we dug the dirt usually chewing on a twig she found nearby.

She fancied herself as in charge of the house (and most of the time clearly was!).  Every night, no matter how late the hour or how tired she was, she stayed downstairs until the last person came up.  And then she would plod up the stairs behind them and situate herself for a good night’s sleep, either on the bed or in her “cave” under the bed.

After 12 years, an aging body caught up with even the indomitable Shula.  During one of her annual check-ups, the veterinarian found that her kidney values were rising.  She explained that she was in the first stages of kidney failure and it was nothing that could be cured.  The problem could be managed with diet, but the deterioration would progress.

That news hit us like a brick in the face.  We took away all of the rawhides and immediately put her on a special, medicated diet.  We expected another six months or so with our girl, but as usual, she had other ideas and lasted nearly three years more.

In the end, the kidney failure was only one of the things that brought down Shula.  One year ago we were sure we had lost her when she developed acute pancreatitus.  At that time, she wouldn’t eat and could barely walk.  The pain was clearly horrific.  At the end of eight days in the hospital where we visited her at least twice a day, the vet explained to us that we really needed to take her home.  She didn’t like being confined in the crate – imagine that! – and she had barked so loudly and for so long she was completely hoarse and was disrupting the rest for all the other ailing animals.

We brought her home, again thinking she wouldn’t have long to go.  But she once again defied the odds, rallied, and made a full recovery.  She really never got her full appetite back, but every two weeks we were now boiling chicken breasts and ground turkey in order to freeze “ready to eat” baggies of protein to go with her medicated diet.

As time continued to take a toll on her body, about six weeks ago she began to have problems with her back legs.  It seems that those amazingly strong bones had fallen victim to cancer.  Too old for aggressive treatment, Shula’s body simply began to shut down.  Ever alert, she never missed a beat.  Her hearing was as strong as it was when she was a puppy (she always alerted us that she heard someone walking on the street – even if she was in the back of the house).  Her eyesight never faltered.  And you could see her mind plotting and planning.  But the rest of her body was starting to give in to the ravages of age.

Her last night was extremely difficult.  The pain must have been extraordinary for her because she yelped deeply for the first time when we tried to carry her upstairs.  Her pain tolerance had always been unbelievably high, and we both knew this cry was her way of asking to let her be in peace.

As we arrived at the veterinarian’s office, Shula of course perked up.  We picked her up from the bed of the truck and let her walk.  I wanted her to at least have this final moment of dignity and pride.  And she didn’t let us down.  Somehow she struggled up to the bushes out front with hints of the same stately prance we saw in her on that first day.  She dutifully marked the bushes with her scent as a reminder that the alpha of all alphas had been here, and all canines who would walk past would know of her magnificent presence.

The “rally” this time was short lived.  Once she got into the office, the adrenaline was starting to slow.

She seemed to confirm our decision as we sat on the floor of the examination room.  Never before had she so much as sat down when she was there (or anyplace that was unfamiliar), always preferring to stand at attention, waiting to play or explore if the opportunity presented itself.  But today, she wanted to lie down on the blanket our thoughtful vet had left for us.  She curled up in a way that she could put her beautiful, furry head on my lap for the final upcoming nap.  Her gaze was fixed on us the entire time and she knew her best friends were with her to the end.

As our furry, crazy, sweet, energetic, perpetually adolescent, lovable, loyal Shu-bear passed from our world into another, we knew she had left the pain in her tired body behind, but that didn’t stop our heaves and sobs.  We are comforted by a sure knowledge that after it was all over, her soul sprung forth to her new home on whatever cloud serves as Doggie Heaven.  We have no doubt that cloud now has more energy than ever before and that Shula is dominating every tuft and puff she can find.  I sure do hope St. Francis knows what to expect.  Even if he doesn’t, we know he’s going to have a blast…



It bears mentioning that when we asked Jay if we could share his story here on our blog his response was “certainly… I hope it inspires more people to adopt pets from shelters.”

We only wish there were more people out there like Jay!

We realize its only the unofficial start of summer but here’s a look at some of our new pet portrait clients and how we’re spending the season..

[Getting to see pictures of super cute pets is just one of the perks of our jobs here!]

PS: Hey, cat lovers.. Has summer gone to the dogs (and guinea pigs)? You can get in on the action to, check out some of our custom cat portraits and consider what we can do with your feline’s photos!

A large part of the country is currently dealing with crazy, crippling winter weather again this week. Here in Denver we haven’t had the pile up they’re getting on the east coast, but we have had a new layer of the white stuff at least every few days for what seems like forever. But this week we noticed something unexpected…

First we saw the first robin of spring, then we noticed several of his friends. They were all hopping around in the snow, presumably looking for a snack, making a mess. But it was about 22 degrees so apparently they didn’t get the groundhog’s memo about the several more weeks of winter to come.

Then the next day, quite early the next day in fact, we hear a sub-machine gun being fired just outside the window! Fortunately it turned out to be just a woodpecker, hammering away on the gutters. Somehow however, it doesn’t feel fortunate to have no break whatsoever between shoveling snow and trying to ward off woodpeckers, which is a battle we often fight but seldom win.

So we thought a reminder might be in order that birds are beautiful creatures who offer the world beautiful song. And especially in the case of these exotic beauties we’ve had the fortune to work with, they often provide a much needed splash of color in the world!

If you have feathered friends of your own, please keep in mind that we can create a custom bird portrait for you too! And if anybody has any tips for humanely keeping woodpeckers away, please share!

We have been long time believers in acupuncture for pets, as we saw how it helped Kylie. But you can click the image below to watch a video featuring an acupuncture demonstration on the lovely, Lucy, and an explanation of the benefits of acupuncture for your pet from two experts:

Plus, this story is kind of a two-for-one because the star of the video, Lucy, is also a friend and one of our favorite clients!

We knew she was a beauty.. now she’s a star, and a very lucky girl to be so well cared for!

We are never afraid to pressure our clients into taking new, better photos of their pet for their custom pet portrait. Sometimes they get frustrated, which is understandable since dogs and cats make really lousy models. But we always tell them, “The better the photo the better the portrait.”

We explain it is not for our benefit, it is for theirs. After all they have purchased a significant, sentimental piece of art that they are going to have forever.

As an example of what our artist can achieve with a really high quality photo check out Toby. Current client, Cathy, had really great photos of Toby for his Pop Art Pet portrait. Click on the thumbnail below to see a larger version – the original was actually huge, which is also a huge help to us.


The lighting is great, the photo is perfectly focused, and so detailed you can see individual hairs. And take a look at the excellent results our artist achieved as a result.


Look how much detail we were able to maintain?


Click here to see all of Toby’s proofs.

So, if you order one of our custom portraits of your pet and we ask you to please try to take better pictures, please don’t take it personally. We just want every portrait we do, to be the best it can be, and to do that we need the best possible photos. Besides, as we always point out, its never a bad thing to have more pictures of your pet!

Did you know we have a whole site dedicated to doing people portraits?

We recently helped create an awesome anniversary gift for a lovely little family by transforming a simple photo into something special.

We did a simple background and a soft technique to design this traditional style portrait. But we can also do Pop Art of you or your family for that whimsical Warhol-esque look.

Just check out Pop Art Go and consider art that is uniquely you!

At the end of last week we finally had to suspend accepting orders for Christmas. So now, as promised we have made a donation to Best Friends Animal Society. And thanks to those of you who have ordered custom pet portraits since Thanksgiving it was a nice generous one..

We couldn’t have said it better outselves! Thank you again to our wonderful clients who through the love of their pets, have allowed us to help homeless pets at this special time.

We encourage you to make a donation of your own to Best Friends to help them continue the amazing work they do to rescue animals in need.

Recently within a couple of days we got an order for a Pop Art portrait of a horse, then a goat; and then when we got an order for Pedro the burro we thought maybe we should start a new business..! Then when we got photos of Pedro we got an even bigger surprise – Pedro isn’t an actual, real, live burro, he’s a little burro figurine!

He also happens to be a mascot of sorts for a couple of best friends, and he even has his own MySpace page!

Sherry, our client, was almost embarrassed about ordering a portrait of an inanimate object but we were intrigued, we had to know the story. So here is Pedro the burro’s story according to Sherry:

I am originally from Detroit, I moved to Leadville, CO in November 2006 to buy and run a bed and breakfast. I am from the big city, the concrete jungle as I call it and moving here was a big culture shock but definitely one of my better decisions. I love it here and I’m always writing and calling home to tell people how different (weird) things are up here at 10,000′. One day last summer I called my best friend (Jill) and told her that there was a guy walking down main street with a burro on a leash, just like a dog. I was cracking up because it was so odd, but so normal for Leadville. Jill said, what the hell is a burro? Which led to a discussion and her googling the word burro. Well I figured that since she had never seen one and didn’t know what one was, I needed to get her one. So I found Pedro in one of the shops in town. Jill came to visit at thanksgiving and before she left I hid (stuffed) him in her luggage. I didn’t hear anything for weeks and I thought surely she had unpacked her suitcase and found him. Alas, my question was answered when I got him back in my Christmas present with his own passport. Well now the game was on. Pedro has had many adventures this year, he went car shopping to find a car to drive to Mexico and protest the making of burro-itos, which he thinks is a conspiracy to make burros extinct. This spring he traveled back to Michigan and visited all his friends and hid out in a closet. Then he found his way back to Leadville this summer.
The portrait I ordered from you is a combination 30th birthday present and house warming present for Jill. She just bought her first house. I figured a picture of her favorite ass was absolutely appropriate for the occasion.


Lately, it’s been like “Old Macdonald’s Farm” around here! In the same week we started working on a custom portrait of a lovely little filly named Zoey, we got an order for King Louis, II, a GOAT!!

Because he is our very first goat we just had to ask Ashley, our client, the back story. Apparently King Louis, II is the love of her little girl’s life and the portrait is a Christmas gift for her. Here’s the whole story in Ashley’s own words:

“At 5, [my daughter] sat on Santa’s lap at the mall and asked for a goat–said that was all she wanted. This was the first I had heard of this, and I had already purchased numerous toys to put out by the tree. So what does any good mother do? Find a way to get her a goat! Called around town, found a goat, and purchased it. We kept him in a nearby barn until Christmas morning. After my daughter awoke, she went screaming through the house, woke us up and said she heard a baby crying outside. There he was, in all his perfect white splendor…King Louis the I she called him. I have never seen a child so smitten. After falling in love with him…and I mean the entire family, Louis passed away on New Year’s eve. No one is sure what actually was wrong with him, and my daughter’s heart was broken. I didn’t know how to explain death to a 5 year old, and I didn’t want too.

Some of the towns people from our church heard about what happened and were devastated for her. We had a couple that called and offered a baby goat to us but said that he wasn’t quite ready to leave his mother. So again, what does any good mother do? We took the mama goat Lucy and her baby (now King Louis the II) into our home and introduced them to the rest of the family–including the stray cat (Tiger) that came up after Hurricane Katrina, our two yellow labs–Belle and Moose, the animal I rescued from a shelter named Copper, and our little diva long-haired dachshund named Dolce. Boy, did we have our hands full.

King Louis the II survived. Lucy went back to her original owners. And my daughter feels that she is the luckiest little girl in the world! Louis has been taught how to slide down her slide–standing up. Then she hides with a cup of corn, shakes it and Louis comes looking for her (their version of hide-n-seek), and he climbs the rock climber on the side of her swing set and sits in the clubhouse while she puts bonnets on his head and pretends to play house. Did I mention that he packs with our labs? We are thinking of getting him a partner because lately Louis has been having an identity crises and believes he’s a dog, too!

King Louis is very pampered. He has his on mini-barn, tons of hay, is spoiled to protein and corn—so he doesn’t graze like normal goats as much. He gets a bath and smell good animal perfume, which he hates. We let him out on the rest of the farm every weekend when we are at home and can keep an eye on him. We don’t want him to eat something poisonous (he doesn’t have “meadow smarts”). Louis still doesn’t understand the single file line thing that the other goats do, but has tons of female and male goat friends. But at the end of the day, he will cry to be back with our daughter and our labs.

Our daughter is an only child, and I am very lucky to have her. King Louis the II is more than a best friend, he is a family member–the second child of sorts, that I could never have.”

We are flattered to have been able to capture Louis’ spirit in the vivid, Pop Art Portrait!

Coming soon.. the story of Pedro – our first Pop Art “burro.”

We’ve been especially busy this summer with even more multiple pet projects than usual! Almost everybody has wanted at least two pets in their portraits, like adorable Airedales Chief & Raya,

And this retro cat portrait of Reggie & Zeke

In addition there were Hachiko & Zoey, Ilka & Tovarish, and you already saw Boomer & Bonnie, just to name a few.

And recently we’ve moved beyond the dynamic duos to some terrific trios. Like these three traditional designs of Sophia, Willie, and Bambino.

Plus check out the Pop Art portraits of sisters, Katie, Shula, and Trina.

So we’ve had an action packed summer so far and love that so many happy households have so many multiple happy pets!