When I painted Annie’s portrait I didn’t yet know that she was the world’s greatest dog, but I could tell she was sweet-tempered and good-humored, and she was very beautiful. Her commissioned portrait was a Christmas gift from wife to husband. I get a little choked up when my portraits are gifts, and as I work I think of the person who commissioned me, and the person who will receive the surprise.
Photos of black animals are always difficult, even outdoors, which usually works the best. White spots and toned spots which Annie has on her face and chest, can be lost in the glare on glossy black fur, but luckily I received several photos of Annie and could see her from different angles and piece together where her small spots and bits of color were. Many of her close up photos were a little foreshortened or her face distorted, though, so I chose a photo of her at a distance with her features in proportion, and then used all the other photos for facial details.
Though this would have been a great pose for a full-body portrait, Annie’s commissioner wanted a smaller portrait focusing on her face so I didn’t need to be concerned about details of her torso and legs and tail. I wanted to catch that slight tilt of her head, her folded ears, and her smile.
Annie was wearing a tag, and the sound and sight of a pet’s tags can be very special memories. However, I couldn’t see what the tag said, but a blank white circle looked awkward to me, like it was waiting for something. When a sent a photo of the portrait for her commissioner’s approval I asked about the tag and what was on it. She couldn’t remember either so I said I’d just lightly pencil in her name, and that worked fine.
The background is a marbling of several muted shades of blue and green, just because it seemed to go well with her.
Usually I find out about my subject before I paint their portrait, but with Christmas looming I got right to the artwork. When I told Annie’s commissioner afterward I’d be writing about her portrait I asked for a little more information about Annie, that was when I found out what an incredible dog she had been, and that her loss had been recent. I was in tears by the time I finished reading it, and I’ll let her beautiful words tell you about Annie.
“My husband adopted Annie during his bachelor days, from Four Footed Friends in Indiana, PA. She was 6 months old when he adopted her, and she lived to be one month shy of 10 years old. She was a quiet and faithful companion to him through the ups and downs of life. Like all dogs, she loved being outside and going for walks! She enjoyed playing in streams and lakes and we could let her out into the back yard without worrying that she would run off. I think it must be the border collie in her, because she knew where our yard ended and she very seldom left. (Though one time she did venture out front to roll on a dead squirrel that had fallen from the power line… EW!) This year, when we had the first snow, we missed her sorely because of the way she excitedly frolicked through the first snow every year, running around enthusiastically with a white muzzle. She was a very easygoing, mellow dog, who very seldom demanded your attention. In a house with three kids and 4-5 cats, she quietly blended into the background. She got along great with dogs she got a chance to know and was a major softy for the cats. My husband and I moved in together 4 years ago, and I brought my 5 cats into his household, with Annie and his two sons. Though he had Annie for over 5 years at that point and she was already living in the home, my cat Chloe quickly asserted her dominance over Annie. She was big enough that she could have easily put Chloe in her place, but she was just so gentle that she let Chloe rule the roost.
“Before we had our daughter, people asked me if I was concerned about the baby’s safety around Annie and what would I do to protect the baby? I had never even considered it because she was such a gentle and docile companion… I was more worried about how the cats would treat her! As predicted, she welcomed the baby into our home and never bothered her. As Lacey grew into a toddler, she was very tolerant of her antics and did great at letting Lacey hold the leash on her walks. I have never met another dog as quiet as Annie. In the 5 years I had the pleasure of knowing her, I only heard her bark 5 times! The times she barked, I was always startled and thought, “so that’s what her bark sounds like!” It was only ever when she saw a person who she deemed to be suspicious, and usually from nearly a block away while we were going for a walk. Despite her kind disposition, I always felt safe having her here because I know she wouldn’t have allowed anyone to hurt us.
“A few weeks before we realized Annie was sick, it suddenly dawned on Jeremy and I that she was starting to reach “elderly dog” territory, when she slowed down a little bit during walks. She had a few accidents in the house in one day, and I knew something was wrong because she always made it outside when she had to go potty. I took her to the vet the next day and they determined that she had a very large mass in her abdomen. Within one week of her cancer diagnosis, we had to have her euthanized. Her demise was quick and brutal to us because the idea that she was getting older was still so fresh to us that we couldn’t wrap our heads around her illness and impending passing. She had ALWAYS been there and now she wouldn’t be any longer. She was getting short of breath and bleeding internally, so we had to make the decision quickly. She did not suffer, but we certainly did. So many regrets… we should have prioritized her more, should have pet her more, should have given her more treats, should have appreciated the tremendous gift she brought to our lives while we could still enjoy her, etc. She was so quiet and asked for so little attention, that she didn’t get much attention in our busy household. It occurred to us very suddenly that we had taken her for granted and just expected that she would always be there. Through her passing, we’ve learned that we need to SLOW DOWN and focus on the gifts we already have around us.
“Having Annie’s portrait painted was my way of forever memorializing her in our family and making sure the kids don’t forget about the years during which we lived with the world’s greatest dog. I couldn’t think of many tangible things my husband needed for Christmas, and I knew he was having a harder time with her loss than he let on. I’m a crier and he has focused on comforting me during our time of mutual grieving. He’s more reserved, but I know he’s struggling too and trying to be strong for me. I felt like commissioning a portrait of her was the best way to memorialize her impact on our family, hold space for his grieving and honor the many years of companionship she provided to him.”
With a loving tribute like that, all the little things she noticed and loved about Annie, I told her it was hardly true they hadn’t appreciated loyal and dependable Annie. They remembered all the things she’d done to make their house a home. And Annie knew she was noticed and loved; our animal companions always know how we feel. The humans may feel they should have petted her more often, but I’m sure there was no shortage of grateful smiles for Annie each time the baby tried to gasp her ear and she patiently stood for tiny hands patting all over her body, or Chloe stared her down and she backed away and let it go. Annie would not have missed those grateful smiles. I’m sorry they only had ten years with her, and I’m honored they chose a portrait as a way of remembering that time in their lives. I’m glad I got to meet Annie too.
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