Pet portraits draw laughs, raise dollars for pets

See the art, both good and bad, from animal shelters' creative fundraisers.
By Liz Finch

The pandemic put the brakes on a lot of the galas, auctions and other events that rescue groups and shelters rely on to raise funds every year. But that didn’t stop Best Friends Network partners from thinking about fun and creative ways to drum up dollars. And while opinions differ on where the idea first came from, everyone agrees that offering personalized “pet pawtraits” was a hit with the public and even raised a little cash for the animals.

“We had a couple of in-person fundraisers planned and one of them was going to be a ‘paint and sip,’ where supporters could paint their own pet's portrait,” says Penny Schouten, marketing and communications director at the Dutchess County SPCA in New York. “When we heard about the virtual pet portrait fundraiser, we thought it was a great substitute.”

Stained glass type painting of a dog

The premise is simple: For a small donation ($10 to $25), people submit a pet photo and in return receive a piece of artwork done by a range of artists, from amateur to professional. Dutchess County SPCA enlisted a variety of people to create the art, from staff members to tattoo artists. Muddy Paws Rescue in New York partnered with 35 local artists. And Osceola County Animal Services in Florida had children five to 15 years old draw portraits.

Lifelike and detailed drawing of a brown dog

Salt Lake County Animal Services made sure to set some expectations ahead of time: “You may get a masterpiece or something more comparable to a toddler’s stick-figure drawing, but we guarantee it will be timeless and make you laugh.” And laughter is something everyone needs during this time.

Bad Pet Portrait Fundraiser advertisement for Salt Lake County Animal Services featuring Zelda the dog and Teddy the cat

“This was in early April when most people were at home in quarantine, so this provided many smiles and gave the staff an activity to destress and engage with the community,” says Kristi Maryman, senior manager of corporate relations and events with the Sacramento SPCA. “People had so much fun with it, both staff and donors alike. It was very cost-effective, fun and engaging — plus we made $4,000 in 48 hours. Overall, it was a wonderful success.”

Painting of fluffy brown dog next to a heart

Cartoony drawing of a tri-colored collie-type dog

Drawing of a tabby cat

Drawing of a guinea pig on an FBI ID card with the name Fox Mulder

Painting of a beagle type dog

Painting of a Labradoodle type dog wearing a bandanna

Drawing of a smiling pit bull type dog with the words, Quarantine Q-T Ginny

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Images supplied by Dutchess County SPCA, Muddy Paws Rescue, Salt Lake County Animal Services, Sacramento SPCA and Providence Animal Center