A dog's tale told with paw prints

Shelby, a seven-year-old Gordon Setter, began painting as a mere puppy. In 2003, her owner Sally Bloss of Chittenango exposed her to life as an artist, and all things since haven't quite been the same.

"I had been watching TV and reading the papers when I became very aware of animal artists," said Bloss, a self-taught artist who works with sundry media. "I began to think about a way Shelby could paint with her paws."

After several attempts and lots of messy mistakes, Bloss found a way to make it work by laying down canvass and color, then covering it with light paper for Shelby to paint with her paws.

"Shelby stepped on it with her paws a few times and I removed the paper," she said. "To my surprise her first flower appeared."

Shelby's works, which are comprised of bold colors and blossoms, are now being compared to artist Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings, Bloss said.

Shelby came to Bloss and her husband Bud as a rescue dog -- her life was spent in a cage under extremely poor living conditions. Because of her tragic beginnings, Bloss decided she wanted to sell Shelby's artwork and give a portion of the proceeds to help homeless pets and pet rescue.

Now, the duo takes their work on the road, with their next exhibit to be held at the Fayetteville Free Library this month. On Sept. 9, the library will host a "Paws for Paint" children's program to share Shelby's talents with young children. Storyteller Dennis Doerr, also a minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Chittenango, will entertain by reading narratives written by both him and Bloss, and Shelby will be introduced to her audience. Next, the children will get to make a "paw" painting of their own.

"My real love is children and I delight in teaching them and doing crafts as well," she said. "When Shelby began to paint with her paws, Dennis and I decided to write a story about this to share with children. So came our "Paws for Paint."

FFL Youth Services Librarian Heather Matzel said she thinks this program is a great way to introduce children to different forms of art.

"Both art and reading are so important to a developing child," Matzel said in a press release. "We have studied ways that dogs can serve as literacy partners for early readers. Now here is a great example of a dog inspiring young children to take an interest in art."

The program is recommended for children ages 4 to 8. Registration is required. Call 637-6374 to register or for more information on the program.

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