During the past two years, as I pined for the past dogs in my life, I gave myself the project of attempting to paint the dogs I had been visiting along 2nd Street (which has since become my neighborhood). I began with Redda, the dog who had participated in my interview at the clothing boutique Sibling Revelry. She is a sweet girl who had been showing me love when I thought no one else could. She lets me hold her on my lap and has participated in my small art show at the boutique. She is easy to love.
Next was Indy, who I met as I walked near my apartment on a particularly busy downtown October day. I remember seeing children,
dressed up in Halloween attire, trick-or-treating at various businesses when I happened to turn my head toward The Shoe Hutch door. This little puppy face was peeping out to see the kids while James, his human, handed out candy. I immediately put on my ‘brakes’, turned toward the door of the store (nearly trampling the unfortunate holiday revelers) and bristled my way inside to give Indy love. Seeing him made me so happy! He still gets excited to see me, though it’s a little more complicated nowadays.
Cammie from Bob’s Mirror and Glass was not so eager to make friends, which I took as a challenge. My daily walks took me to the south end of 2nd Street often and once, as I turned east toward the river, I saw her in the store front window. Again I put on my brakes, turned and entered the store (the fact that I have no immediate business to give any particular store never deters me, evidently). Cammie didn’t budge from her curled-up position in the middle of the floor. I asked whether it would be alright if I gave her some love and the young man at the desk said, “She doesn’t warm up to everyone.” My previous dogs had been heelers, so I felt the need to make friends with Cammie intensely. After some cautious sniffs, she decided I would be okay and now lets me scratch her belly without hesitation. It helps that I carry treats.
By now, I was on the hunt for other dogs who work at downtown locations. I was between jobs and needed a project to keep my focused and productive. I also needed this project to fend off impending depression that comes with lack of work and the lack of confidence that comes with that. Someone told me about Merlin who worked at Zooey’s. I made an appointment to photograph Merlin and his human helped pick the pose, saying it was kind of “iconic” for him to sit there on the velvet couch. Merlin let me pet him just a little, but seemed kind of nervous about it all. I took the photos and left, thanking them for the opportunity, of course.
Since The Shoe Hutch is the place I frequented most, and since Indy had by now become one of my favorite animals in the entire world, I also became easy friends with Huckleberry and Bella (dogs who also work at the shoe store). Many days I’d have nothing more on my schedule other than to take treats to Bella, Huck and Indy. The humans that work at The Shoe Hutch made me feel welcome, even though I rarely purchased anything. I can easily admit that I felt so guilty about being such a pest that I bought one pair of shoes and several pairs of socks that I didn’t truly need over the course of the year.
Up to this point in my self-guided project, I felt I was definitely practicing the art of painting dogs, but it wasn’t until I saw all the paintings in order that I realized practice really does pay off. My technique was improving and I gained some confidence. It’s extremely hard for me to face a blank page/canvas and I have procrastination down to a science when it comes to beginning a painting. All kinds of negative talk passes through my mind until I’ve convinced myself that I’m wasting time.
I decided to attempt painting the dog of my heart, the Blue Heeler that stayed at the farm when I divorced. Ruger and I tried visits for the first year, but logistics made them difficult and both our hearts hurt a lot. I had taken a photo of him at my Corvallis apartment and wanted to try to capture that look of love in a painting. I was scared. It was painful. But I really did find him in my painting. My sister’s comment was: Jaqui’s paintings are getting more and more realistic. My heart was in all of the initial paintings, but my soul was in this one. I still miss Ruger and he still has part of my heart.
At this point in the Working Dog Project, things get a little sketchy; there were roadblocks. I began really searching for all the dogs that work downtown. I found there were more than I could fathom! The project became a socialization practice for me–a chance to force myself outside when all I wanted to do was sleep, or go teach overseas in Indonesia (which I came a hairs-breadth away from doing). I arranged for meetings and took photos of more and more dogs: Peak Sports, Corvallis Home Brew Shop, The Frame Shop, Troubador Music. These dogs’ pictures are waiting for me to paint them.
But it doesn’t stop there! One incredible aspect of this Working Dogs of Downtown project has been very personal. One of the roadblocks of staying right here in Corvallis has been living in an apartment, and the thought that I could not have a dog of my own. Once I crossed the hurdle of that limiting thought, so much changed for me. And it happened all at once: 1. A new co-worker shared information about her companion dog, 2. I happened to look at Heartland Humane Society’s website and found “Moonstone”, a terrier mix that looked a lot like a puppy I had met and loved three months earlier, 3. I talked with my landlord about the possibility of having her as a companion animal, 4. “Moonstone”/”Pearl” came home to live with me!
Pearl currently works with me at Irenes’ Boutique and I am so grateful to Rebecca Robinson for making this arrangement work. Because I live and work downtown Corvallis, Pearl has become a recognizable presence. When I first brought Pearl home, she surprised me in so many ways (positive ways), but my veterinarian cautioned me that I’d need to work on several problems with her, especially since it was just her and I. She needed some interventions in the way of confidence and socialization. Of course I took this as a challenge and wore it every day as my “job”. We went to the dog park downtown, I walked her all around the riverfront, took her to the outdoor restaurants, asked every dog/human I could find to give her treats. She was always with me for the first few months–I didn’t go places to which I couldn’t bring her. I was exhausted!
Pearl is a lightning fast learner and met our challenge like a champ most days. I took her to visit my former neighbor Jo (96 years old). There was mutual love immediately and I was impressed with Pearl’s ability to discriminate play time from serious time.
Pearl also has her favorite stops along our daily walks, including the shop across the street run by Reed and Colin. It’s her favorite because feeding her tortilla chips has become a tradition. She loves these guys a lot. It’s pretty obvious they kind of like her too.
Pearl and I have become inseparable, and I am lucky we found each other. The unconditional love of a dog is the closest thing I’ve felt to the love of God. Ever. And Pearl is exceptional. What I love about her is her ability to bond with other people too. She adores the newest member of her pack. They also have a close bond, which makes me happy to see. I love seeing her love in action.
This post is the encapsulation of my past two years. What I’d like for the next two years is to paint more and more dogs. I have finished my first commissioned dog portrait–‘Atticus’ who lives with my dear teaching friend Alicea. It was scary to do and to be paid for, but I loved doing it and I hope to do a lot more commissioned portraits!