2018-06-14 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The new Babylon Animal Shelter has a remarkable benefactor. An artist/ philanthropist from Massapequa has created 40 abstract works for his gallery show and a signature piece for auction, all to be featured on an upcoming episode of the PBS series “Shelter Me”, narrated by Jane Goodall.

Proceeds from the sale of these paintings will be donated to equip the new Babylon Shelter scheduled to open this summer. By the way, the artist is Dagger DogVinci, who’s 75% black Labrador and 25% Golden Retriever. Although he was bred and trained to be a Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) assistance dog, his life took a different career path.

You are invited to Dagger’s gallery opening “Gimme Shelter” and cocktail reception at Long Island Picture Frame & Art Gallery, 4 Audrey Avenue, Oyster Bay on Saturday, June 23rd from 5 to 9pm. Tickets are free. Call the gallery at (516)558-7511; the shelter at (631)643-9270 or RSVP to info@ ShelterMe.tv.

Dagger paints in his Massapequa studio while pals-Miss Ya Ya, the Lab, and Tommy Tutu, the Beagle watch from the sofa. Dagger paints in his Massapequa studio while pals-Miss Ya Ya, the Lab, and Tommy Tutu, the Beagle watch from the sofa. Dagger will also be featured this Saturday, June 16th at 7pm on ABC7’s “Hidden Heroes” which profiles individuals in the NY metropolitan area who go out of their way to help those in need. Dagger will be the first non-human on “Hidden Heroes”.

Dagger’s Puppyhood: Yvonne Dagger of Massapequa is a fine artist. Her family’s first CCI puppy was Miss Ya Ya a yellow Lab who is now eight. Puppy families nurture and socialize CCI pups for 18 months before the dogs return to CCI for specialty training to master many specific tasks like turning lights on/off, opening drawers and doors, picking up and holding items in their mouth so one day they can help their disabled owner.

Dagger standing next to the invitation to his solo gallery show on June 23rd. Dagger standing next to the invitation to his solo gallery show on June 23rd. Only 40% of CCI pups graduate. Miss Ya Ya was released because she was a bit too active and goofy. She’s a pet and therapy dog who lives with the Daggers, her puppy raisers. CCI told Yvonne a future puppy would be named for her family.

Dagger was born in Santa Rosa, CA, CCI headquarters, on 10/6/2012. Yvonne’s family raised him for 18 months. He went everywhere with her- to St. Rose of Lima Church, King Kullen, a performance of “Wicked” and tea at the American Girl Café in NYC.

When old enough, Dagger went to the NE CCI in Medford for his formal training. He loved to work and was a willing student but after several months was released because of fear issues of the dark and some noises. When Yvonne went to pick him up for adoption, the puppy raiser manager took her aside to show her what an amazing student he was. Dagger had an excellent grasp of commands.

How Dagger Found Art: Soon after in 2015, Yvonne was painting in her studio while Dagger watched. He started nudging her. “Want to paint like Mommy?” she asked. He wagged his tail.

She pulled over a table top easel with a canvas and created a make-shift brush with an old-fashioned meat tenderizer as the perpendicular, grip bar for Dagger’s mouth.

He’s a command dog. Yvonne told Dagger to “Push”, and he used his snout to push the brush across the canvas. There was no paint on his brush yet. This practice went on for a month. Yvonne was hesitant to add paint to the brush. Lauren, Dagger’s trainer from CCI began visiting once a week to help build confidence- Yvonne’s, not Dagger’s.

Finally Yvonne added paint to his brush and gave the command “Paint”. Dagger made his first brush stroke and went wild when he sensed his art tutors’ excitement. He began painting everything including the wall. With practice, he became less Jackson Pollock and got more canvas control.

Yvonne was planning to do a “paint & sip” for the LI rescue Forgotten Friends. She asked if she could bring Dagger as the substitute artist. The night became his grand debut. Dagger sat on the stage and painted. His masterpieces were auctioned off to benefit Forgotten Friends. Newsday did a follow-up story and within two weeks, 150 commissions were requested from all over the world. Word of a DogVinci travels quickly.

How Dagger Paints: Dagger still uses a flat, inch brush with the meat tenderizer gripper. Yvonne gives him non-toxic, acrylic paint. She places a large canvas drop cloth under him. When he does demos for adults or classes for kids, Dagger wears a red beret which lets him know he’s working, just like a service dog wearing a vest or a guide dog in a harness. The beret stays on his head the whole time.

Dagger, the command dog, takes direction from Yvonne his artistic mentor. She chooses the colors for him, and loads his brush with two colors each time. Though Dagger gazes at his canvas as if he’s assessing what his work needs, it’s unlikely he sees color the way we do.

Yvonne says: “Ok, Dagger, Sit.” Then “Brush” for him to pick up his brush; and “Paint”. He walks to the easel. Kids go nuts when he swishes the first brushstroke across the canvas. He loves his fans’ reaction, and wags his tail. When she says “Hold it”, he stops. He doesn’t drop the brush. “Give”, he releases the brush so Yvonne can add more paint. “That’s Gorgeous” signals he’s done with his latest work.

Dagger’s Charitable Mission: Dagger’s become known as “The Do Good Dog. He’s also a certified therapy dog. Since Dagger’s story went viral, he’s sold over 375 paintings with proceeds of all sales going to six people and animal-related charities. He’s donated $45,000 to his causes including CCI.

While Dagger paints in the studio he shares with his Mom, Miss Ya Ya and his Beagle buddy Tommy Tutu lie on the sofa and watch the artist at work.

Was it a premonition that Dagger was named for Yvonne’s family even before she met him? “CCI will always be Dagger’s first family, “said Yvonne, “He may not be paired with a disabled person. You never know where you’re going to end up. One door closes; two windows open.”

By combining art from his mom and training from CCI, Dagger is helping many- including every person waiting for a CCI dog, while also bringing joy to everyone who witnesses his artistic “gift”.

Next Week- More about Dagger, His Art Programs, Media Frenzy, Charities & Solo Gallery Show.

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