All Paw Art: Memorializing your best friends

PANTON — Warning, this is a sad story. It’s about a reality we all know, but hate to face: our four-legged family members simply don’t live forever. It’s a truth that Brenda Murphy had to face again last fall when her “soul-puppy” Mallard died.
“He lived for 13 years and 361 days,” she said of her black Lab in a recent interview. But it wasn’t long enough — it never is.  “We know how to grieve for people, but we don’t know how to grieve for our pets in this country.”
Before Mallard, Murphy had two rescue dogs, who died in 2010 and 2011, respectively. To cope with their loss, she turned to art. With colored pencils, she memorialized her pets and hung their portraits at home in Panton. “I got a lot of feedback on them,” she said. “I also did a portrait of a cat at Homeward Bound.” People seemed to like Murphy’s work, so she decided to do more pet portraits. “Animals are very true to my heart. I know what they mean to someone.”
Murphy does not ask for money for the portraits, instead she asks her clients to make a donation to a local animal shelter. “I try not to put a number on it, but ask for a meaningful donation. For example, $60 feeds an animal for a week at Homeward Bound,” she said. If clients need advice on where to donate, Murphy suggests Homeward Bound in Middlebury, All Breed Rescue in Williston and Central Vermont Humane Society in Barre.
Once the donation is made, Murphy gets to work. “I’m upfront about how much time it takes,” said Murphy, who took a job at the Middlebury Courthouse a year and a half ago to continue her 24-year career as a probation officer.  “I ask for a bio of the animal’s personality and a few pictures,” she explained. “Then I find music or a TV show that fits with the personality to help me set the mood… Portraits can take anywhere from 12-40 hours depending on the size and detail. I could do a Lab in no time — I know their eyes, ears and nose by heart.”
Murphy, who graduated from Castleton State College in 1988 with an art major, said she knows a portrait is coming out well if she get’s the nose right. “Their eyes tell a story, but their nose tells you what they’re thinking,” she said. “I always draw the nose first, then the eyes.” If that goes well, she continues. Murphy guesses she’s completed between 20 and 25 portraits since she started; of those about 80 percent of the pets had passed away.
“We take for granted that people will be in your life forever, but not our pets,” Murphy said. “Our pets remind us how short life is, and remind us to live… They teach us how to be grateful and good company,” she continued. “They’re good for our health — they keep us away from the TV and eat half of whatever’s on our plates. They really live in the moment and focus on you.”
To see more of Murphy’s artwork visit her Facebook page @AllPawArt.

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