A shelter in North Carolina tried to get him adopted.
“He had an absolutely horrible life, and yet he seemed happy, and I was told he got along well with people,” said Gartner, founder of the Happily Furever After Rescue in Bethel, Conn., which rescues pets endanger. to be put in shelters because they are old or disabled. “His ear had to be surgically removed, but Van Gogh was resilient, even after everything he went through.”
“I had to save him,” she added.
Gartner arranged for the nonprofit Pilots N Paws to fly Van Gogh to her in Connecticut in June. She put the word out on Facebook, Petfinder and Rescue Me that she had a friendly one-eared dog that needed a home, but no one wanted the 7-year-old boxer-pit bull mix.
“Not a single application came in,” she said, explaining that he had stayed with several foster families. “I could not believe it. He was the cutest dog ever.”
After he was part of her rescue for four months, she looked at Van Gogh with one ear and an idea arose how she could make him more acceptable.
“I’ve seen TikTok videos of other dogs creating paintings, so why not Van Gogh?” Gartner said. “He definitely had the name and the ear for it.”
So she put small clumps of bright paint on a 8-inch by 10-inch canvas, seal it in plastic wrap and cover the top with a thin layer of peanut butter.
Van Gogh approached his assignment with the gusto of a true peanut butter-loving artist.
He licked the paint in dramatic streaks, and five minutes later when Gartner decided the painting was done (and Van Gogh had eaten enough peanut butter), she took the canvas away. It was perfect.
Gartner thought he represented Vincent van Gogh, the legendary post-Impressionist artist who created “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers,” as the two artists both became prolific.
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“He has a quick and creative tongue,” Gartner said. “It takes us more time to get the canvas ready for him than it takes Van Gogh to lick off the peanut butter and spread the paint around.”
One of the dogs’ canvases was dipped in blue and yellow paint to recreate Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”.
“We did the art in a week, then I invited people to come and meet him at an outdoor art gallery event,” she said. “I had sparkling cider and pastries and I even set up little stands for the paintings.”
She was disappointed when only two people turned up at the event on 23 October. One of them was Jennifer Balbes of Monroe, Conn., who follows Gartner on social media.
“He came and sniffed my face and we were fast friends. He is an incredibly sweet dog,” Balbes (56) said.
She went home with a $40 Van Gogh painting titled “Clouds.”
Gartner was devastated that Van Gogh’s first art show was a bust, but decided not to give up. She performed the next day.
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“I posted on Facebook that I felt bad only two people showed up, and I said the rest of the art was still available,” she said.
Suddenly everyone wanted it.
“The paintings sold out in two minutes,” she said, raising about $1,000 for her animal rescue.
Van Gogh continued to complete painting after painting, and in mid-November Gartner held an online auction. A dozen of the dog’s paintings were sold, raising an additional $2,000 for the rescue, which she started in 2020. Almost all paid more than the asking price for each painting, she said.
More importantly, Gartner said, Van Gogh was adopted by one of her foster volunteers on the last day of the auction.
Gartner marveled at how he captured hearts online with his whimsical artwork.
She said she was surprised by the sudden interest in Van Gogh’s artwork after his gallery show was a failure.
“I never in a million years thought I’d see a dog become popular for his paintings,” she said. “It really changed my life and his.”
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She said the paintings brought a lot of exposure to her small rescue, which has about 20 volunteers.
“Because of the attention of Van Gogh’s story, we have now let other dogs find homes,” she said.
The person who adopted Van Gogh is one of her foster volunteers, Jessica Starowitz. The adoption was made official on the last day of the auction, Nov. 21, Gartner said.
Starowitz took over watching Van Gogh from another foster family and decided she couldn’t let him go, she said.
“As soon as I saw him, I knew he would be a foster failure,” she said. “He walked around and licked everyone and played tug of war. My whole family fell in love with him.”
Starowitz said she plans to keep Van Gogh supplied with paint and peanut butter in case Gartner wants to hold any other fundraisers for her nonprofit. She also started an Instagram page for her talented new family member.
“Everybody loves Van Gogh, and he loves people,” she said. “When he sees a Ziploc bag and a jar of peanut butter, he knows it’s time to paint. But at the moment he sleeps on a big pillow bed in my office.”