The Thing You Can Do For A Friend When Their Pet Dies

I’m the Angel of Death. It is quite accidental but it’s turned out that way because I offer one of the strange comforts — is there is such a thing as comfort — when a pet passes away.

Speaking from experience, the loss of a dog or cat or horse or fish or…. can be as traumatic as (if not more than) that of a human. My dog Scorch, a mostly-black mutt, changed my life. He was the first dog that caused the light bulb to go off, telling me that dogs have a higher understanding of our language and are WAY more intuitive than we think. I’d had smart dogs before him. But he was in a league of his own.

Scorch smile

Scorch Smiling

Scorch died of lymphoma, following an excruciating six months of chemotherapy treatments that bought him just about an extra six months.

He was nine years old.

He died in 2005 and I went to bed for about a week. Since that time I have trouble uttering his name. Last week, I was getting a private tour of MSU Veterinary Clinic where he had his treatments. I wasn’t even really thinking about it, but when I walked into the area where the chemo treatments are given to pets, I burst into tears. The tears kept flooding up and out of me while the nurse stood there looking at me.

Talk about embarrassing.

“We all cry here,” she said. She was very kind about it but I haven’t gone back.

It’s 13 years later and I am still weeping for poor, magnificent Scorch.

This is part of what having a pet does to you.

sandys Lab.jpg

In this sense, they never really leave us.

I don’t know why pet portraits are so comforting. Or, maybe I do. It is, after all, another person’s interpretation of your dog. But in some ways, it makes their presence fresh, much as talking about your experience with a departed person does. The bereaved ask us to talk about their loved ones. We strain for new information, stories, news of them. These memories help to keep them alive and present as we walk into the future without the company of their physical being.


I joke that being a pet portrait artist is like being a playground bully: When someone starts to cry, I know I have done a good job.

But it is more than that. It is offering this little bit of soul back to those who mourn. Best of all, if it is a gift, it is a way to reach out to that person and let them know they have been heard, that their loss has not gone unnoticed.

It is a way of saying that the love lives on.

Posted in acrylic, art, art, acrylic, slate, equine, grief, friendship, dog, dog art, dogs, empathy, equine art, scorch | 1 Comment

When Doves Fly


Watercolor in progress by Nancy J. Bailey

The trill of the mourning dove is a sad sound to some people, but to me it has a calming effect, almost like an avian lullaby. The doves mate for life and there are two pairs that have been hanging around our pond for the past several years. They build a flimsy nest in the hedge in front of the house, and they walk around in the grass under the bird feeder searching for seeds, always together. They even drink together. They drink like cattle, with their beaks pointed downward, immersed into water, only raising up when they are done. They are among the few birds who don’t have to look up at the sky to swallow the water.

doves drinking

Mourning doves are migratory, but one pair of ours decided to stick around all winter, because I kept feeding them every day. Doves like to walk around and eat seeds. These don’t flee like other birds, sometimes not even flying away when I flung the seeds out. They would just waddle off across the snow in their shuffling gait, their soft brown feathers providing sufficient insulation even on the ground. They came waddling back when I went back inside.


I secretly thought of them as Ricky and Lucy. The couple who migrated were Fred and Ethel. One cold day, Lucy sat quietly on the ground, hunkering down on her red feet like a sad little church lady. I took a bath towel and approached her, talking to her softly. She took off in an attempt to fly, then plummeted to the driveway.

I flung the towel over her body and scooped her up. I put her in a cardboard box in the bathroom, near the heater and left it covered with a towel so she could stay in the dark.

I thought maybe she was dehydrated. I set up a birdcage for her and took out the bottom grate so she would have a flat surface to walk around, a piece of wood to sit on, and a scattered mix of seeds. I gave her a special treat, safflower seeds, which are a favorite of doves.

I took a syringe of water and carefully dribbled some into her mouth, and she did swallow it. After that, I left a bowl of water in her cage. She ate voraciously, her eyes were bright and she seemed to be in fine condition. She wasn’t alarmed by my coming and going from the room. I thought it was because she was so accustomed to me.

dove lucy

On the third day, she started walking in circles and her head was tipping to the side. I had to give up my idea of letting her go back to Ricky when the winter storm was over.

On the wildlife rehabbers submission form, I marked that I would like to have Lucy back. They assured me that they try to release birds, especially birds that have mates, back in the area where they come from.

I called a couple of times to check up on Lucy. She had recovered, but they were reluctant to let her go in the freezing, rainy February. Meanwhile Ricky was picking around the bird feeder alone. I felt bad for him, but knew Lucy was in good hands.

Finally, when the long, hard winter was beaten back by the pervading sun, there were three doves under my feeder. Fred and Ethel had returned from their winter in the tropics. A couple of days later, I looked out and there were four doves.

Had Ricky gotten hooked up already? What would Lucy think?

When I called the wildlife rehabbers to find out if I could come and pick her up, they said, “Oh. We released all the adults a few days ago.”

I was pretty upset that they hadn’t called me; after all they had promised to. But maybe it didn’t matter. The timing seemed just too coincidental.

The rehabilitation center was ten miles away. I don’t know where they released her. .. But for a bird capable of migrating thousands of miles, flying ten miles to get back home doesn’t seem like a big deal. Could it be? Is this Lucy 1 or Lucy 2?

If you could talk, you’d have some splainin’ to do.

dove stretch pond


Posted in birds, empathy, watercolor, wildlife | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Painting a Day: Mother’s Day

German shepherd Leonberger

Celebrating all types of motherhood today. This commission, a watercolor of a German shepherd and her Leonberger buddy, arrived as a surprise to their owner yesterday, just in time. I have since learned that the German shepherd, Banshee, was one and a half years old when Captain Jack the Leonberger came to live with them. So she was in fact his surrogate mommy.

It doesn’t get too much more perfect than that.

Motherhood goes so far beyond the actual act of giving birth. It is the nurturing that follows; the worry, the fretting, the overseeing of smallest details and filling of the greatest needs. It is an instinct so strong that it surpasses all others. It is the deep knowing that you would fight for someone, give your life for them in a split second of instant decision. Motherhood is the permanent status of being heart-bound to someone else, be they two or four-footed.

So for all those of us who are Other-Mothers, I wrote this poem.

For My Mother, With Thanks

The planets must have been aligned
Or maybe the sun was arching
Into just the right length of days
Or maybe a higher power
Paused to gaze upon me
Just a moment longer
Whatever happenstance occurred
Whatever force was in the works
Something or someone must have known
I needed you to be the one
Fortune truly smiled upon me
The day we found each other
I can know now how it feels
To have family
To be a part of something
To be loved
I am blessed
To call you Mother

Posted in art, dog art, dogs, empathy, family, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Painting a Day: The Call of the Loons

loon light 2

We who hail from the North always look forward to the return of the loon; its haunting cry and wild laugh is the epitome of our hopes and dreams. Loon is the dream totem; the symbol that all your dearest wishes can come true.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the loons lately; hoping that this is a good sign of tranquility, and that old hopes and dreams are just around the corner from reality.

This is watercolor, 9×12″.

Posted in art, birds, empathy, watercolor, wildlife | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Watercolor: The Fairy and the Dwarf Dog

Corgi Fairies.jpg

When you think you know all there is to know about dogs, it turns out that you are wrong.

I just found out that the Corgi was the gift of fairies. That’s right, this short-legged, feisty, vigorous herder and funny clown, “dwarf dog,” was a gift from Fairies in Wales, way back when.

It turns out there was a war between two fairy tribes, the Tylwyth Teg (a common name for fairies in Wales — it means, “Fair Folk”) and the Gwyllion (creepy fairies). The creepy Gwyllion fairies won the battle and killed two members of the Tylwyth tribe.

During the funeral procession, two human children stumbled upon the ceremony. The generous Tylwyth people gifted them with the two corgis that had belonged to their slain kinfolk.

The humans were encouraged to use the dogs to herd their cattle. The fairies used them for transportation, in daily work as well as in battle, and the feisty Corgi temperament shows why.

As Shakespeare said, “Though he is but little, he is fierce.”


Posted in art, corgi, dog art, empathy, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Greening

Last night I was home late from the Kentucky Derby party and the horses had given up on me. I was able to get Clifford’s stall all set, with beet pulp and grain and fresh water, and there was no Kerry Morgan sticking his head over the door. Even though I had turned the lights on, and was clanging the trash can lids, nary a horse showed up.

It was dark in the pasture with milky fog lying low on the fields, and I walked out through the back yard, peering for the a shadow in the shape of a horse. But I saw no hopeful equine approaching me, a sign that they were out in the farthest reaches of the fence row.

“Clifford!” I yelled.

I stopped and listened, and then I heard the hoofbeats, pounding against the wet ground, galloping importantly like the soundtrack from an old Western movie. Within seconds, one, two, three horse shapes flashed past me toward the light of the barn.

The first two horses were indiscernible, both moving at a smooth hand gallop, but the third shape was certainly Trudy, as it was smaller and blacker even than the night. The sight of the running horses made me catch my breath, for one of them was Clifford, but there was no sign of a limp or stiffness.

He had been out in the field since morning, eating the new green growth, walking and stretching and absorbing all that natural sunlight, and all the Vitamin E the ground could offer.

Even a winter’s worth of muffins couldn’t make him move that way.

green grass.jpg

Posted in Clifford, empathy, horses | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Painting A Day: The Kentucky Derby

I have been boning up on my equine art, because this is that week. The Derby provides so much color and action and I could just keep on painting these running horses forever. These three are all watercolors.

derby watercolor 1derby watercolor 2derby watercolor 3

But even with all these, it’s still Big Red who offers the most inspiration. I just received notice from Fine Art America that I sold another of these prints, called, “I Work Alone.” Even after all these years, Secretariat rules.


Posted in art, empathy, horse, horses, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Painting a Day – Eastern Bluebird

bluebird watercolor.jpg

Spring has come late this year. I was walking my dogs in the field behind the horse pasture the other day, amid all the brown and beige winter grasses and dried stems snapping under my feet. When I looked up, I saw an eye-popping flash of brilliant blue. I decided to do a watercolor to try and show the contrast between the winter-worn landscape and the impossible shade of blue.

Even if I can’t adequately capture it, the bluebird is a welcome sight during this transition.



Posted in art, bird, birds, empathy, watercolor, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Earth Day! – A Painting a Day

chickadee rose hips

In the interest of a peaceful coexistence, I painted a chickadee sitting on my climbing rose. At this time of year, it isn’t much to look at. But the birds have enjoyed the rose hips through the winter.

This is watercolor, 12×16″. It is still available, $300.

Posted in art, birds, chickadee, earth, empathy, watercolor, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Save Our Great Lakes! (Shut Down Line 5)

Last night I was invited to a private screening of, “Beneath the Surface – the Line 5 Pipeline in the Great Lakes” – the new documentary film by Detroit Public Television. It revealed some new information about the Canadian company that owns Line 5. The oil has been coursing along on the bed of the Straits of Mackinac through a coated, beleaguered pipeline for six decades.

mackinaw bridge.jpg

In watching the film, I started thinking about how many of my paintings have featured lakes, or water birds, or shorelines. Water is Michigan’s greatest natural resource. It has served as a backdrop for so many years that I admit to taking it for granted.

Even though Line 5 is older than I am, I was unaware of it until just recently. In December, Clifford and I joined up with Clean Water Action and protested at the state capitol, resulting in the State Police asking me to remove my horse from Governor Snyder’s building.

I am not sure Governor Snyder ever heard we were there, but since then he has agreed that Line 5 is not a good idea. Unfortunately he is still catering to Enbridge by contemplating a tunnel UNDER the Straits.

Good grief.

One look at Gov Snyder tells you he isn’t much of an outdoorsman. But, still.

Enbridge could just as easily create a land-line pipe that runs down through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio — all the way to the Canadian destination. Or, just keep it in Canada north of Lake Superior. This would cost them no more than the coated Line 5. The bureaucratic red tape of the issue is mind boggling. The excuses and avoidance of the obvious solution seem like just an offshoot of crazy. … And so horribly irresponsible.

All it takes is one little crack. One worn spot hit by an anchor, one weathered area overlooked for too long. Parts of the pipeline are buried under sediment. Who knows what is going on under there?

One of the most disconcerting things about this situation is how the public doesn’t seem to understand or care that this is happening. I think people believe that the Straits are in such a remote area that a spill would not affect them.

The film does a good job of illustrating the currents in the Straits and how unpredictable they are. Within just a day, an oil slick can travel south into Lake Michigan and head toward Traverse City, washing up on the beaches of Sleeping Bear and further. It can travel east into Huron, completely engulfing Mackinac island, working its way down the pristine coast of northeastern Lower Michigan. It can head north, up the channel into Les Cheneaux, and finally contaminate the shores my own Drummond Island.

This is within the first day, or days, of an oil leak.

If you don’t think this will affect you, think for a few minutes about where you spend your vacations. Then think about the tourism that is one of Michigan’s greatest draws. What brings people here?

It is the water.

Make no mistake, an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would affect your business, one way or another.

What can you do? Click on this link and make a donation. Find out what governmental representative is an advocate for clean water, and vote for that person. Start reading more about Line 5 and make your voice heard.

I was born in Michigan and I have spent my entire life painting the flora and fauna that live here.  I’ve attached a slide show of some of the art, below. Michigan is a great state and it’s wobbling on the cusp of being destroyed by corporate greed. You have the right to a pristine environment. Don’t let anyone take it from you.

“Beneath the Surface” premiers on Detroit Public TV (56.1) on April 25, 2018 at 10 pm ET. Check your local public TV listings.

blue heron

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted in art, earth, empathy, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment