Arbor, the canine maestro. (Photo: Bryce Henderson)
Oscar Wilde famously quipped, “All art is perfectly useless.” But Oscar never met Arbor, a former Las Vegas shelter dog turned painter whose bright, energetic abstract canvases are helping other dogs in need.
Arbor’s latest masterpiece—Hudson’s Valor—is up for auction through 7:40 p.m. Pacific today. The proceeds from the auction will be used to defer the medical costs of Hudson, a three-month-old dog that was recently injured in a Chicago dogfighting ring.
“He was blood soaked, had scores of bite wounds and had been lit on fire in an attempt to kill him,” explain Bryce and Jennifer Henderson, Arbor’s owners, in answers emailed to TakePart.
Bait dogs are used to gauge a dog’s fighting instinct. Oftentimes, the snouts of these test pooches are wrapped in duct tape to prevent them from defending themselves and possibly injuring the moneymaking fight dogs.
“Usually a dog in Hudson’s condition would have been euthanized,” said the Hendersons. “However, a veterinarian at a Chicago shelter saw that he still had a lot of life in him so they contacted Project Rescue Chicago, who then made arrangements with Trio Animal Foundation to fund his medical care.”
After two surgeries, IV fluids, many facial scrubs and high doses of antibiotics and painkillers, Hudson is much improved and on the road to recovery.
In a sense, Arbor’s painting philanthropy is a pay-it-forward gesture, a bit of canine karma reciprocity. A little over a year ago, the Hendersons rescued the female mutt at the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas.
“We are not professional dog trainers and really thought the animals you see on television or in movies were unique in their ability to perform at that level,” say the Hendersons. “When we noticed Arbor’s initial intelligence and eagerness to learn and please, it encouraged us to learn more about training.
Arbor mastered each trick the Hendersons presented her with.
“The first step in teaching her to paint was to get her comfortable holding various objects in her mouth without chewing on them—not an easy trick for a dog. But in just one short week, with lots of positive reinforcement, she had mastered holding each object, including a paintbrush. Every time she would touch the brush to the canvas, my wife would click with the clicker, and give her a treat and a ton of praise.”
It took Arbor roughly three weeks to master the painting process. The Hendersons give their gifted girl no help except a few rotations of the canvas. Most of the time Arbor uses non-toxic paint, although she’s recently started painting with watercolors as well.
If caught, what should be the punishment for the men and women who fight dogs?
Jocelyn Heaney is an English instructor, animal activist and freelance writer for L.A. Review of Books and Warner Bros. Pictures, among others. Her favorite animals are great white sharks, horses and all cats. She is currently at work on a memoir. Email Jocelyn | @JocelynHeaney