An Act of Dog — one artist’s mission to lower euthanasia rates

Using his incredible talent as a painter, Mark Barone is showing the world how many shelter dogs are killed on a daily basis.

According to animal welfare organizations, five million shelter animals are killed each year in the United States. Because many rescues and shelters don’t provide accurate reports, this number is a rough guess at best. But it’s a number that impacted artist Mark Barone, inspiring him to raise awareness about this horrifying statistic. After considering that many more cats are euthanized than dogs, he estimated that approximately 5,500 dogs were killed daily. “There are so many loop-holes,” explains Mark. “To this day, no-one knows the correct number as it would be too shameful to record what we are actually doing.” But for Mark, an estimate was enough. In 2011, he began painting 5,500 portraits – one for each of the dogs killed daily.

Using photographs of shelter dogs, Mark started creating up to 20 paintings a day. He used canvases of all sizes – from 12” by 12” to 8’ by 8’ – sometimes building them himself from scratch. After the first 100 portraits were complete, Mark became both discouraged and empowered. He knew this project was his calling. “Artists have a powerful medium for reporting on the consciousness of our current civilization,” he says. “The aim is to move the viewer to feel those realities and engage them in a dialogue towards recovering our lost humanity.” So, for four years, Mark continued to paint while PBS and Sagacity Productions made a documentary about their project, which is now airing across the USA and Internationally.

Near the end of those four years, a teacher from Stone hill Middle School heard about Mark’s mission and decided to reach out. Mark began mentoring students, who were eager to help raise awareness for such a worthy cause. Moved by Mark and his own project, they began making their own art. In a matter of months, they had enough paintings to host a fundraising event. “Stone hill Middle School enrolled over 600 adults to their event and besides giving them an education and inspiring change, they raised thousands of dollars for a couple of their local rescue groups and donated some to An Act of Dog,” says Mark.

Mark and his partner, Marina, created the charity An Act of Dog to raise money for rescue groups with their fine art products. They continue to work with students, educating them to use their own talents to make a difference. Meanwhile, Mark’s paintings line the walls of an exhibit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The canvases stretch 10 feet high, and span the equivalent of two football fields in length. “Our Movement is Social Expressionism,” says Mark. “Starting with the 5500 dog portraits, we’re creating a space to exhibit art that matters.”