Star and Pepe weren’t cuddle buddies and though they were totally different in their relationship with their humans and the way they’d come into their lives, they shared the duties of guarding their home in their own ways.
Star, a papered German Shepherd, was a old farm dog, a guard dog, and sometimes a herding dog. Having started out his life on a farm, this couple had had to sell the small farm after an injury prevented them from working it any more, kept a couple acres of land and built a home. Star came with them to the new home, but while he’d been well-fed and cared for and was very much loved by his people, he’d spent a good bit of his life running the perimeter of the fences, patroling the barns and keeping intruders and wildlife away from the animals in the fields. When they moved to the house he was not interested in sleeping on the couch and though they had acreage letting him to roam as he had on the farm just didn’t work. The compromise was to give him a big sheltered house outside and a long lead on a run so that he had could still run some distance, inspect what was happening at the edge of the woods and keep an eye on his home.
When I met him he was about 15 years old, and in 1994 that was very old for a German Shepherd and it was easy to see he had some arthritis and found it difficult to run, but he greeted his people and me with all the gravity of his lifelong occupation of working dog.
Pepe on the other hand was a coddled little Yorkie who thought of himself just as much the watchdog as his far larger and more muscular fur brother, but what he lacked in strength he made up for volume. The people had decided they wanted a dog to be in the house with them but didn’t want a large dog, and they wanted a dog that would be happy to accompany them outdoors in all weather and Pepe filled that description. He and Star regularly checked in with each other, touching noses, exchanging glances, sharing canine information all the while I was there, Star pretty much lying or walking in one area near his house, and Pepe running circles around him and us and everything else. The people loved them both, allowing the two dogs to be who they were.
The house portrait
This couple had decided they wanted two pieces of artwork done at the same time so they could hang them together. They had relatives who had commissioned me to paint their cats and their parents’ house, so this couple wanted both a portrait of their dogs and of their relatively brand new house, which obviously wasn’t complete without their dogs.
At that time I painted houses in watercolor, not pastel, because it was easier to work the fine details and I just preferred the way they turned out in watercolor. The two would be the same size and would be matted and framed the same.
I was so pleased to be able to paint both in autumn for all its colors, but especially the house, since it was largely white. I had a great time with the window reflections and the shadows from those huge maple trees. I photographed both of these pieces through the glass, not necessarily the best way to capture detail.
And I’d unsuccessfully searched for the reference photos I’d taken to create these portraits, then I remembered that way back in the beginning I dedicated one or more rolls of film to a portrait and I charged my customers for it when I had to visit them to photograph my subjects, so I gave them the photos when the art was done.
Star began staying in their garage over that winter, though he demanded to be let out first thing each morning by digging at the door, and Pepe barked until Star was out on his lead. But by early the next summer he was beginning to fail until all they could do was open the garage door for him each day. I was very touched when they called me near the time he died to tell me how he was doing, and then when he’d passed. Star had a huge spirit that wouldn’t have been contained by a house even if he’d been raised in one, and I could feel all the loyalty and strength that was the essence of the domestic dog that had accompanied the human race for millennia when I was with him.
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