I’ve spent a lifetime loving animals, and I believe that having an animal to love can heal your heart. Psychologists and doctors agree. Stress, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and physiological problems are all improved by positive contact with animals.
Despite this, thousands of dogs and cats wander the streets homeless. They are caged in shelters, unhappy and sometimes die there. During the month of November, we will be talking about homeless animals, and the artists they have rescued. We’ll talk about animals who inspire artists, as well as animals who sit quietly, paw or head in lap, while their human creates. We also hope to bring you information about organizations that save animals and how you can get involved. Welcome to November, artduh.com’s own Pet Awareness Month.
We are kicking off the month with the story of Lee Udall Bennion. Lee is a wonderful painter who lives with her husband, Joe the potter, in Spring City. We can’t imagine Utah’s artistic landscape without Lee’s paintings. Lee loves animals, and has spent a lifetime rehabilitating horses and dogs who have been abandoned. In return, animals inspire Lee’s paintings. I wanted to kick off Pet Awareness Month with Lee because I feel she exemplifies the animal/artist bond.
Lee foster’s animals for a San Pete county organization called Wag n’Train. Here is the story of just one of the dogs she has fostered, who inspired one of her favorite paintings, Tossie:
Wag n’ Train is a dog rescue program that has no shelter, but is a network of dedicated people who work with the local pounds in Sanpete County. The pound workers identify dogs that they think are adoptable and contact Wag n’ Train who sends someone over to check out the dog and then if they also feel it has adoption potential, find it a foster home like me and many others who take the dog until it is adopted off the website. Wag n’ Train gets the dogs neutered or spayed if they are old enough, all their shots and is very careful in the screening process of who can adopt them. We as foster homes help the dogs socialize with humans and also with our own dogs, get them learning simple commands like sit, stay, come and how to walk on a leash. In my opinion it is far better to get a dog from a foster home situation vs. just getting one from a shelter where it has been in a cage or pen. We, as foster home parents can tell you much more about the dog’s personality, quirks, strengths, and intelligence because we have lived with them and watched how they respond to good care and training.
One day in early fall I got a call and the director asked me if I would take a special case for them. It was a mother dog with 5 puppies who had been taken to one of the local pounds by her owners, who said that they didn’t want her anymore. I just don’t understand how you can do something like that, but I guess it is better than just dumping them out in a field or the side of the road or shooting them. Things like that happen to dogs. The mom was a short-haired, border collie type, about as tall and long as a large Australian Shepherd. The puppies were about 5 weeks old and not quite old enough to wean from the mom. They were all colors and markings. No two were alike, or looked like the mom. The Mom was near starvation. I said to bring her on over.
I named the mom Tossie. I had never seen a dog so thin as she was. I could see every vertebrae on her spine and every rib. She was weak, her legs regularly buckled under her the first few days I had her. She was still making milk for the pups and they didn’t look too bad. They were plump and active. I immediately started them on supplementary foods such as baby cereal mixed with yogurt, and started Tossie on a high fat and protein diet of ground raw meats, cottage cheese and yogurt as well as dry food. It was gratifying to watch her put on weight while she continued to nurse her pups. She was very sweet. She never questioned me or any of my children or friends handling her pups. She never barked or acted territorial. She didn’t jump up on me or display any other dominance behavior. She was in a very fragile state and was just so grateful for food, shelter and the protection of our fenced yard. My two neutered male dogs were kind to her and played with the pups so she could rest.
I took her to the vet to be spayed when the pups were weaned. When the pups were approximately 8 weeks old they were put up on the website as well as Tossie for adoption. One by one her pups were adopted by people who found them on the website and then not too long after the last pup went, a family adopted Tossie. She went to a family who had no other dogs and Tossie was going to be a companion for their teenage daughter who really wanted a dog and was kind of shy and withdrawn socially. She and Tossie seemed a good fit and Tossie willingly hopped in the back seat with the girl as they left. Most of the time my foster dogs are very reluctant to get in cars and go as often the last time they were put in a car they were dumped somewhere. She seemed to trust them and was willing to go.
I heard from them about 6 months after Tossie left. They loved her and she was very happy in her new home. I took a lot of photos of Tossie as even though she was skin and bones when I got her, I thought she was such a beautiful dog. I have painted her several times and will probably paint her again as I just love her face with its harlequin marking. She is definitely one of the most memorable dogs that I ever fostered.
An avid horsewoman as well as dog lover, and Lee’s paintings can be found at David Erickson Studio in Salt Lake City. Lee is known for thoughtful, elongated portraits that are often angelic or feminine. I’ve always loved the way she paints the frames to match the images they contain. Lee’s other paintings can be seen at horseshoemountainpottery.com/lee/index.php.