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Pet projects: a look at the ‘Paint Your Pet’ fundraiser in Springfield

(John Buday/ Daily Collegian)

Owners of cats, dogs and pets in general gathered at the Dakin Humane Society in Springfield, Massachusetts last Friday for the Paint Your Pet fundraiser where, for $50, animal lovers could create artistic renditions of their furry pals.

Thanks to cohost the Art Cart, an organization dedicated to spreading smiles to people with Parkinson’s and other patient groups, and a population with an appreciation for pets and the work of the Dakin nonprofit, participants stroked away at their canvases while sharing pet-related stories.

“Everyone’s working on something that’s meaningful to them. It’s more personable,” Chief Smiling Officer of The Art Cart Saba Shahid said, explaining why people sign up for their workshops.

“I think people also come out to support Dakin. It’s for a good cause,” said Shahid.

Most of the $50 event cost covered participants’ art supplies, wine and pizza, while $10 went toward Dakin itself. The organization uses its funds to provide shelter, medical care and other services to more than 20,000 animals a year.

Several of the dozen and a half painters shared that they knew prior to the event about some of Dakin’s duties as an animal welfare provider. One of these painters, Alana Cullington, describes wanting to attend a Paint Your Pet fundraiser for a while now.

“They do a lot for this area — not only this area, other areas,” Cullington explained before giving an example: “I know they’ve taken in some animals from the hurricane.”

Others such as painter Kim Mongeau also volunteered directly for the organization in the past. She has performed trap-neuter-returns on feral cats, which then usually get sent to Dakin. Mongeau also shared other roles tying her to the nonprofit.

“Sometimes I volunteer at Dakin to take photos of tough-to-adopt animals, and then I put [them] on greeting cards or I do prints of [them],” Mongeau said.

In addition to wanting to give back to Dakin, most pet owners at the fundraiser recounted the plans for their paintings, which often intertwined with the stories of their pets. Some of them, including Laura Kelley, already have a spot in mind to hang their paintings.

“I have a wall — a shrine — of pets past and people past and family trips. It’s just the family wall, so she’ll go up there,” Kelley said as she painted her Bernese mountain dog, Bella.

Meanwhile, Lori Cebula came up with the idea to surprise her husband on Christmas with a secret gift. Their dog, a black Labrador retriever named Chantz, passed away last July at the age of 14. Her husband works as an insurance agent, and would often take Chantz to work with him when he was still alive. During that time, Chantz also apparently became fairly popular among coworkers at the company.

“When we lost him, it was like losing a child because he was so close to everybody…we still talk about him a lot,” Cebula reflected on the death of her dog.

John Buday/ Daily Collegian)

Despite possessing different stories and circumstances surrounding their pets, a uniform trend among those attending the fundraiser emerged: Their pets represented a part of their inner beings. Like with Cebula, who compared her dog to a child, most others attending the event also acknowledged, in some fashion, that they considered their pets part of their family.

For most, their visit to Dakin was not about creating art so much as it was about honoring their four-legged family members.

Dakin Marketing and Communication Manager Lee Chambers, who oversaw and participated in the event, described it as “a very exciting and unusual way to take the idea of those ‘paint and sip nights,’ but make it entirely an individual experience for people and feature a pet that they adore.”

The paintings themselves came second, whereas the stories those paintings told came first.

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.

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