Bryce Henderson walked into the living room of his Las Vegas home, unpacked a paint-splattered easel, and set it up for his little artist: a rescue dog named Arbor.
“Arbor, do you want to paint?” he asked.
Eager to start, Arbor — a black-and-white Border Collie-mix — bit down on a paintbrush fitted with a mouthpiece, and dipped it in purple acrylic paint. She approached the easel, placed the brush upon the paper, and swish! She shook her head to make purple strokes back and forth, followed by a few black ones, one at a time.
Perhaps that purple and black creation was Arbor’s tribute to music icon Prince? Who knows? With a painting dog, there’s no telling.
It’s anyone’s guess what Arbor’s latest painting will look like. They are all random, although sometimes they look like certain objects. One painting looked a bit like a dolphin, but they are open to interpretation, Bryce said.
“It’s abstract,” he joked. “It doesn’t look like the Mona Lisa.”
The Hendersons didn’t know about Arbor’s knack for the arts when they adopted her in 2011 from the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas. It was just like any ordinary adoption.
“We weren’t looking for a painter,” Bryce said. “But you never know what you’re going to find there.”
When they brought home Arbor, now about 6, she started learning tricks quickly and enjoyed showing them off. The dog with soulful brown eyes likes to do fun sports tricks like catching balls, playing ping pong with a mouth-held paddle, and knocking a ball off a tee with a mouth-held bat.
Jennifer wanted to teach Arbor more advanced tricks, inspired by some YouTube videos. She bought some painting supplies and got Arbor to try her paw at art. The dog learned quickly, motivated by food treats and praise.
Bryce recalled coming home one day from his job in IT sales, and finding Arbor painting in the living room.
“When she sees us pull out the brushes, she gets really excited,” Bryce said When Arbor started painting, the Hendersons created a Facebook page for her called “Go Vegas Dog,” which now has more than half a million likes.
“We started just using her skills to show people how great rescued pets can be,” Bryce said.
Painting for pets
Arbor has demonstrated her painting on several television news stations, and also tried out for the summer TV reality show America’s Got Talent. Yet, her greatest exposure and deeds have come from the auctioning off of her paintings by organizations that benefit animals, including PetSmart Charities. Arbor’s paintings have sold from a few hundred dollars to as much as $2,400.
Artist Theresa Lucero, based in Las Vegas, met Arbor several years ago when she was renting gallery space. Lucero, on a tip from a friend, went to an event where Arbor was painting live, and the painting sold for several hundred dollars.
“It was amazing!” Lucero said. “I had seen dogs paint before, but not like this.” Arbor’s abstracts, Lucero explained, “actually look like well-contemplated compositions. Her parents help her pick colors and titles for her pieces, but the magic is all her own doing.”
Last year, Lucero took charge of PAWcasso Las Vegas, a charity that began as an annual auction but now functions as a year-round nonprofit to benefit rescue groups via art. For the past four years, the Hendersons have donated one of Arbor’s original paintings to a PAWcasso auction. The first year, the picture sold for $250; last year, Arbor’s painting brought in $1,000.
“Having Arbor and the Hendersons on board for something is an incredible incentive,” Lucero said. “Arbor is essentially a celebrity in her own right, with tons of friends on social media. She can really get the word out about what’s going on and what’s important for doggie lovers.”
Buyers of the paintings are getting a work of art, and know the funds are going to a good cause. “It’s like the gift that keeps giving,” she said.
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