Left to right: Santina, Mark's dog of 21 years (who will be the gatekeeper at the museum). Next is Batman (froze to death, left outside), then on the right where Mark is painting, Grant, who was a bassett hound, killed for food bowl aggression.

Nelson

Clara

Harry: owner-surrender pit bull. Killed within hours.

Manny

Jim

Halo

T-Bone

Jackie

Honey

Mark

Marina, Mark, and Gigi

Co.Create

An Artist Paints 5,500 Portraits Of Doomed Dogs And Each One Will Break Your Heart

Losing a pet is impossibly hard. But if you can channel your loss into something productive, it hurts a little less.

When painter Mark Barone's dog Santina died three years ago, after 21 years of companionship, he was devastated. But after his partner, Marina Dervan, suggested that they adopt a new dog from a shelter, both of their lives transformed in unexpected ways.

"I thought, maybe it would be a great idea to adopt a dog, and Mark was not interested—he just wasn't ready," Dervan says. "But that didn't stop me. I was going online and looking at dogs. But instead of finding a dog, I found out all of the statistics about what was going on in terms of the amount of animals who were being killed in our shelter system. And with all of the stats and the imagery that I was looking at—the gas chambers, and a bunch of pretty awful stuff—I kept sending this to Mark, saying, 'This is awful.'"

Barone's first response was that he didn't want to see it, but he soon changed his tune. "Two days later, he said, 'I have a really clear vision of what I want to do to solve the problem.'"

Barone's vision was both simple and extremely ambitious: 5,500 shelter dogs are killed every day in the United States, and he wanted to give that staggering number a face. So Barone committed to painting 5,500 portraits of shelter dogs, using photos of the animals from shelter websites from around the country. In Barone's work, each dog has a name—Dervan names the dogs that are listed only with numbers—and is titled with both its name and the date it was killed. The cumulative effect of looking at all of these portraits is staggering.

Barone is over two years into the project now, and has more than 3,500 portraits completed. Most of the dogs are painted on 12"x 12" wood panels, broken up by occasional massive 8' x 8' paintings of dogs whose story Barone feels particularly inspired by.

"The size of the project is half the size of the Sistine Chapel," he says. "The Sistine Chapel is 11,000 square feet, and this will be 5,500 square feet. If you stack the paintings 10 feet tall, it'll be two football fields long." Barone says he paints 10 dogs a day, seven days a week, and the two say that the project—which they've called "An Act of Dog"—is a full-time volunteer job for the both of them.

All of which leads to the question: Once the project is complete and the 5,500 portraits have been painted, what's going to happen to the work?

Barone and Dervan have ruled out selling the paintings, even in an attempt to raise money for a shelter. Instead, they intend to partner with a city or a philanthropist who wants to build a permanent home for the work, a nonprofit museum that can exist as a sustainable fundraising and public awareness solution to convert more of America's shelters into no-kill institutions.

There are still nearly 2,000 dogs to be painted, so there's time for them to find the exact right fit—Dervan says that they've turned down a few cities that didn't mesh with their vision for the museum—but for shelter dogs across the country, time is running out. At the very least, Barone's paintings give those animals a face.

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4 Comments

  • Carriann Gajdzik

    You are both amazing. Thank you for allowing your art to be their voice. I'm so touched by your story. I too work to raise awareness and fight for
    Shelter Reform.

  • Eamurray

    As a former shelter employee these statistics are all too familiar. I hope that the beauty and sadness that will be seen through these paintings will open the eyes of those that are careless with their pets. I have lost a shelter dog entirely too young due to the lack of responsibility by whomever dumped him. . .My heart will never be the same. When the time comes to see these paintings I know I will see Wonka in each and every one of them.

  • ShelterStaff

    This truly is a beautiful project. An upsetting but important bit of information to note about most "no-kill" shelters, however, is that they are also limited admission. In other words, these shelters take animals that they deem adoptable and at their own pace.
    Animals are being surrendered because their owners have passed away, are being evicted, or are banned by a new landlord. Other animals seeking refuge are injured or sickly strays. These situations don't allow 6 months to wait for admission into a "no-kill". The result: animals are being abandoned and pounds and open door facilities are taking on even more of a burden. As upsetting as it may be to the American public, no-kill shelters are not the cure all solution. I work at an open-door shelter that takes on multiple (sometimes 10+) animals every single day who have been turned away by a local "no-kill". If it weren't for our open door policy, these animals would have nowhere to go. 

    If animal lovers really want to help America's homeless pets, the best thing to do is ADOPT, SPAY/NEUTER and support open door facilities that try their best to place ALL animals in need. Foster. Volunteer. Advocate. Donate. 

    Learn more about open door shelters here: http://www.wpahumane.org/opend...

  • Jessica Janes

    This is an amazing story that pulls hard at the heart strings. 
    Love his work, the palette and treatments are wonderful. The size is awesome. 
    Who wouldn't want one? 
    I wish him lots of success with this project.