My love of tattoos has been in my life far longer than my affection for dogs. As long as I can remember, I have loved tattoos. There is no rational reason for it; they are just something I’ve always been drawn to.
Sometimes I think my affection for tattoos may have had something to do with my dad. I knew him when I was little, but we became estranged during my adolescence, and then he died in 2005 before we ever really got to reconnect.
My dad had some tattoos that he had gotten in the 1960s. In fact, one of my favorite tattoos of his is a skull and dagger, which he’d done on his own arm when he was young. It had a banner with his name inside.
My half brother, John, has the same tattoo with his own name. Shortly after he and I reconnected at my dad’s funeral, I decided to get my own version. We think of it as a Willingham thing. John has always loved tattoos, too, so I figure it’s a part of our particular line of Willingham DNA.
To the uninitiated, I probably have a lot of tattoos. To those heavily into the scene, I would probably be considered a lightweight. I still have a fair amount of skin real estate left. Tattoos are expensive — as much as fine jewelry, depending on the size and quality of work. I’ve been a single mom for most of my parenting career, which began when I was 23. Because of that, most years I am not able to afford new tattoos, but I add when I can.
I turned 40 this year. Back when I was a very young punk rocker, I believed in the live-fast, die-young philosophy. There was a time in my early adolescence when I did not want to live past the age of 20. Needless to say, turning 40 is a bit of an achievement when you have that kind of a history.
In my life I have been a high school dropout, a single mother on welfare, a drug abuser, a college graduate, and now a gainfully employed adult in a professional career. I am proud of the hardships I’ve overcome and I have worked very, very hard to get to where I am today. However, the last few years were far more challenging than many of my earliest years.
I married a man who I did not know very well in 2008, because I was carrying his child and he was facing deportation. We tried to make our marriage work and do things the right (legal) way. We came from different cultures, spoke different languages, and had different values and beliefs. The thing we had in common was a commitment to our son.
Fast forward five years and the marriage dissolved when I discovered at 38 that I had a passion for animal rescue, which started with a dream and ended up with me adopting six cats and four dogs. My husband did not share this passion, and, in my opinion, gave up on making our marriage work. I think I did, too, because I felt like I’d made so many sacrifices for him and that he should be willing to make some for me. The animals proved to be the one sticking point neither of us could get over.
Not only did my husband not like my animals, but also he did not like tattoos, especially on women. He told me, “They make you look like a bad person.” This really bothered me because clearly I had them when we procreated and married. He did not want me to get any more and hated when I did. It was a point of contention throughout our marriage.
So for me to be single and 40 and to have worked through a lot of things, during my annual summer vacation from work, I decided to get two tattoos as a sort of reward for and celebration of my hard work and dedication to being true to what I believe in.
I believe that love is not about control, or a power imbalance, or hiding our imperfections and pretending that they don’t exist. I believe love is about being true and real and giving and taking time to work through the hard things without quitting. I do not believe that love means one person makes tons of sacrifices and the other is always on the receiving end. There has to be a relatively equal give and take over the course of time.
Coincidentally, one of my favorite tattooers just so happened to be having a bully breed rescue fundraiser in Portland, Oregon, on a Saturday during my summer break. Eli Falconette’s artistic skill is amazing. Plus his preferred style is traditional, which happens to be my favorite. These tattoos are the old sailor types that grace the arms of many American granddads who served in the military. These were the kind my dad had.
When I discovered that Eli had three bully breeds of his own and was planning to do a fundraiser for local bully breed rescue groups, I knew I had to talk with him — and get tattooed by him.
On Saturday, July 5, Eli and the owner of Blacklist Tattoo Gallery, Linus O’Malley, held a one-day fundraiser by offering specially priced Bulldog flash tattoos designed by Eli himself. Prices ranged from $80 to $200 for each tattoo, with all proceeds being donated to Northwest Boxer Rescue and Pacific Northwest Bulldog Rescue (formerly Cascade Bulldog Rescue).
I drove down from Seattle for this event because I was so excited about it. Blacklist Tattoo Gallery is located in Portland, Oregon, and has some of the nicest flash I’ve ever seen. (Flash is the predesigned tattoo art that hangs, framed, on the walls in all tattoo shops.) The shop is clean, there’s free parking within walking distance, and everyone who works there is an extremely talented artist.
I was really excited to get my first tattoo by Eli Falconette and to know that the money would go to an excellent cause (supporting tattooists is also an excellent cause, but this one was even better!). Tattoo fundraisers for animals are one of the best things I can think of (at least for people who are both rescue and tattoo enthusiasts).
Fortunately, I was also able to talk to Mr. Falconette himself about how he got involved advocating for the bully breeds. And yes, I am so punk that I conducted the interview AS I WAS GETTING TATTOOED. I chose my left arm to get tattooed so I could use my right hand to take notes. I picked my favorite picture from the flash sheet shortly after I walked into the shop. Then we got busy with the tattoo/interview.
Kezia Williams for Dogster: How did you get involved in rescue?
Eli Falconette: Since I work six days a week and don’t have a lot of time to volunteer, this was the best way for me to help out dogs. Bully breeds tend to have a lot of vet bills, which means a lot of them get dumped into rescue groups after the owners realize how expensive they are. The rescue groups need money to help pay for veterinary costs.
How many dogs do you have?
Are your dogs rescues?
No, they’re not. I didn’t really know that much about rescue when I got them, but I would definitely rescue a dog today.
What led you to do this fundraiser?
A love of my own dogs led to me learning more about dog issues. I’ve always liked bullies. I like their faces. When I got my own, I loved them even more and wanted to give back because I love them so much.
How did you choose which groups to donate to?
Mainly from interacting with some of them online and through people I know. I plan to do a lot more. This is the first one.
Did you have animals when you were growing up?
I had some Akitas and cats, which I liked. But I am really into bullies now. Bulldog faces are one of my favorite things to tattoo.
At the end of the day, Eli had tattooed seven people and raised $1,000. It was a great to be part of this awesome event! I was delighted that it worked out. As a single mother to both humans and animals, it is sometimes hard to schedule things. Lucky for me, all the stars were aligned, and not only did I get a nice new tattoo, I contributed to bully rescue and learned more about the fabulously talented Eli!
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