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We Chat With Artist Elizabeth Ellis About Her “Year of 52 Rescues” Project

The Ohio artist is painting a different adoptable animal — from dogs and cats to rabbits and pigs — from a no-kill shelter every week, with an exhibit due in 2016.

Phillip Mlynar  |  Jul 16th 2015


Last year, Ohio-based artist Elizabeth Ellis was going through a tough time in her life but out of her personal strife came the idea to channel her energy into a new project. With her long-time love of animals, she decided to paint a different adoptable no-kill shelter critter every week. She called it the Year of 52 Rescues.

At the start of 2016, there will be an exhibition showcasing all 52 of Elizabeths watercolor portraits. The paintings will then be mailed to each animals new home or their current shelter. If you were wondering, there are still a limited number of spots available for the project, so act fast and contact the artist through her website if you know of a suitable canine candidate.

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Mugsy from the Animal Rescue Foundation in Theodore, Alabama.

With Elizabeth now more than halfway through the Year of 52 Rescues, I spoke to her about the many dogs who are featured in the series, the backstories of the animals shes painted, and why she picked a distinguished pooch named Harry to kick things off.

Dogster: What inspired the Year of 52 Rescues project?

Elizabeth Ellis: Well, I got divorced in June of last year, and I was in a terrible place. I felt like I needed to get out of my own head and do something good for someone elseand it’s working! I feel a whole lot better about my situation, I have a much more tangible grasp of just how much worse things can be, and I’m raising awareness for animals who need loving homessome of whom have been the victims of terrible abuse. Animal rescue is a cause that is important to me because I grew up in a family where we had rescue cats and horses. I feel deeply for abused animals because they have no control over their circumstances and people can be really incredibly horrible.

The project features a lot of dogs. When it comes to painting them, how would you describe your style of portraiture?

I would describe my watercolor portraits as sort of a loose realism. I also work in acrylics, and those tend to lean more towards impressionism.

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Harry from Cause for Paws in Etna, Ohio.

Why did you pick Harry as the very first painting in the series?

Harry had the distinctive honor of being the first painting for the Year of 52 Rescues because the shelter he was at was the first one to respond.

What have been some of the most memorable backstories to the dogs you’ve painted so far?

The dog story that has stuck with me the most so far is a Staffordshire Terrier/Miniature Pit Bull named Miss Pibbles. She was a fighting dog, and she was forced to fight in spite of being pregnant. She was rescued during a fight and delivered three puppies shortly thereafter. Sadly, only one puppy survived, and he suffered some damage. That’s the worst dog story, but I have a number of horse stories that are just as miserable: I’ve got pictures of horses that are 500 pounds underweight who were eating the bark off of trees to survive. I’ve spent a number of mornings checking my email and crying into my tea.

Have there been any particularly heartbreaking stories you’ve come across when it comes to special needs animals?

None of the special needs animals have had any particularly tragic stories. I painted a three-legged Great Pyrenees who was found taking a nap on a country roadcircumstances unknownand a nearly blind Great Dane who was surrendered because her owners didn’t understand what they were taking on when they brought home a visually impaired giant-breed dog.

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Kiona from Pei People in Irvine, California.

Beyond the dogs in the projects, what’s been the most bizarre animal request you’ve had?

I’ve painted rabbits, horses, and pigs; I have a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo coming up and a ferret, but most bizarre probably has to go to Annie, the Sugar Glider.

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Claire with the artist’s nieces.

Whats your own dog Claire’s personality like? And have you painted her before?

Claire is very loving, playful, and super smart. She knows a ton of tricks but doesn’t listen to commands, so she just does her tricks all at once. She’s a fetch maniac. It’s not a rare occurrence to go to sleep and wake up with a tennis ball placed in your hand. I’m actually allergic to dogs and was looking for something in the Poodle spectrum due to their hypoallergenic properties. She was surrendered to a shelter because her owner’s husband died and she was unable to take care of all of her dogs. And yes, I have painted Claire, with my nieces (shown above). Its my favorite painting of Claire but certainly not the only one.

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Arthur from the American Lhasa Apso Club Rescue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Finally, if Claire could go on a playdate with one of the dogs from the project, which one would it be?

Claire gets incredibly nervous around bigger dogs, but she would probably enjoy a playdate with Arthur (shown above) because he’s not too far from her size.

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Odin from We Love Chinese Cresteds Rescue in New Market, Alabama.

To learn more about the Year of 52 Rescues, visit Elizabeth’s website or Facebook page.

Read more interviews on Dogster by Phillip Mlynar:

About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.