Paloma swatted the fly from her face and glopped more acrylic onto her canvas. Her easel wobbled in the mud. She was in the back corner of a swine barn and although the swine themselves were absent, certain traces of them remained. One of which was their pungent aroma. Paloma tried to breathe without using her nostrils and returned to the task at hand.
Her subject was quivering on a grooming table, also standing in the mud.
Paloma made a comfortable living as a pet portrait artist. More often that not, she worked at dog shows where she quickly painted in broad stokes until the dogs were whisked away by their handlers to prance around the show ring. For all the pomp and circumstance dog shows are afforded on television, they are remarkably un-glamorous in real life. And smelly. Take today, for instance. The dog show was being held in a rodeo arena and the grooming area was here in the swine barn.
“Thank you so much! It’s stunning!” The owner of the quivering Maltese on the table gushed.
“I’m glad you like it. Tell your friends I’ll be here tomorrow, too.”
“Oh, I will. I’m going to be back with a crowd of people around your easel.”
The woman headed for the ring and Paloma had a feeling she would be painting more than a few tiny white dogs tomorrow.
It was freezing in the barn and Paloma’s teeth chattered while she packed up her supplies. She was carefully maneuvering her van down a small stretch of Farm Road 316 when she saw him. Alone in the yard. He was shivering in the sleet, his head hanging down. His eyes squinted and he winced as icy drops pelted his face. Paloma had never seen anything so pitiful. Or cruel.
She pulled over and knocked on the door of the house. A burly man answered, clearly surprised to see a strange woman on his porch.
Paloma’s confidence wavered, but she couldn’t bring herself to walk away. “Um, sir. Your dog is chained out in your yard and it’s below freezing. Maybe he could come inside.”
“Lady, he ain’t allowed in the house.”
“But he’s shivering. Maybe you could put him in the garage or something?”
“He’s an animal. He belongs outside.”
Then Paloma found herself looking at the door, which had been slammed in her face. Defeated, she slumped back to her car and drove home in the slush. All night dreams of the heartbreaking black mutt cowering in the cold tortured her. First thing in the morning she called Animal Care Services.
“We can’t help you, ma’am.”
“What do you mean? The poor dog is chained in the yard. Have you looked outside?” A blanket of sparkling snow covered the ground.
“It’s perfectly legal to chain a dog, so long as it has food and water.”
Her eyes flashed with anger as she thought about the conversation later back at the dog show. Another fluffy white dog sat before her waiting to be immortalized on canvas. If she weren’t so upset she would have laughed at the irony of her situation. She was being paid thousands of dollars to paint a virtual parade of spoiled dogs and less than two miles away a forgotten black mutt huddled alone in the frosty wind.
It was ridiculous, really. In art school, her professors had always talked about how great art could change the world. Yet, she stood in a swine barn painting the same white dog over and over again.
“I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” Paloma dropped her slender paintbrush and frantically began packing. She shoved a fistful of dollars at the stunned dog owner with the Maltese and tromped back to her van in the snowy parking lot.
The black dog was still in the yard when the van slid to a halt. His muzzle was covered with a layer of snow flurries and his chain had hardened with ice. Paloma saw the dog’s owner watching her from inside the house as she unpacked the van. Her gloved fingers shook; she wasn’t sure if it was the cold or fear. Just let him come out here, she thought. He can’t do anything to me. I’m not breaking any laws either.
Paloma secured her easel in the snow and set to work mixing the pigments on her palette. Then she began painting a picture which could change the world. At least maybe for one dog who lived on a chain.
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