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  • Arleana Holtzmann

"Brick" Stray Rescue Urban Wanderers Art Show and Auction


Last year was my first year participating in the Urban Wanderers Event to help and support Stray Rescue of St. Louis. This year they contacted me to participate again and I was so happy to be chosen. I love supporting local non-for profits in the most meaningful way I know how, through my art!



So, they sent me a dog to paint. I was not prepared for all of the feels I was about to experience. They didn't just send me a dog, they sent me beautiful photos and an amazing story about a dog named Brick.

I'm going to share their story, photos and also share my painting of Brick with you. Grab your Kleenex, this might pull on those heartstrings.

Here is Stray Rescue's story of Brick:

"We are “regulars” around the Newstead/St. Louis Ave area of north city. There is a pack of three feral dogs, 2 females and a male that have been eluding rescue for a couple years now. Sadly, we return to the area to find more puppies a couple times a year.

This particular day I decided to just drive the usual alleys just looking to see if I spotted anything. Sure enough, the rescue Gods were watching out for us again. I got to the end of an alley and standing all alone in the weeds, at the edge of a pile of bricks was a black and white puppy. I knew exactly what feral mom he belonged to from his color and markings. He stood there watching me approach, but as soon as I got too close he made is way down the fallen brick pile into the basement.

This house, or what was left of it, was one of the worst we had been in. The only way in was down the mound of bricks, under the collapsed wood frame and into the basement. The entire middle of it had collapsed into a pile in the center of the walls. If you looked up, you could see the floors above. There were still piles of what the last residents left on the upper floors.

This single puppy knew every pocket of space under the collapsed wood, drywall and bricks. Just like the adults, he eluded our rescue for hours. We even tried a large trap without any luck at all. We finally decided to set a smaller trap closer to the area we last spotted him and leave. We blocked the only way out so he could not get out of the basement. If he didn’t go in the trap, at least we knew he would still be down there and we could try again.

It was no more than 1 ½ hours later and we couldn’t stand the thought of him being in the trap scared. We headed back to see if he decided to come out from hiding and go in a trap.

After removing our blockade from the door, I could see that the first trap was empty. It was a very discouraging feeling to think that we possibly still would not have him. I had to crawl in further to see the other trap. Even in the low light of the basement I could see that he was in it! We finally had him!! We barely had any light left so we loaded up the puppy and we left.

Because of all the debris at the house, we decided to name him Brick.

Little did we know this was just the first chapter for Brick’s journey. About ten days later he started showing neurologic signs. His head started to bob and he became unstable on his feet. With each day he got worse and after just a couple days he was unable to get up at all. His foster mom would hand feed him and hold his head steady for him to eat. His appetite stayed strong which was encouraging.

We decided to put him in the hands of the experts at a veterinary hospital. Their diagnosis was distemper. They quoted us all the text book symptoms and recommended he be euthanized. “We have never seen a puppy get to the neuro phase of distemper and live”. They have also not seen some of the miracles that happen Stray Rescue.

When they brought him out to us to transport him back to Stray Rescue, we expected this limp puppy that was unable to lift his head and would completely unresponsive to us. But what we saw was a puppy holding his head up and still had a light in his eye that told us he still had that will to live. Because he had not been eating well at the hospital, we offered him some pieces of chicken. We barely had the container open and his nose kicked in to full gear smelling at the container. He gobbled up as much as we would give him.

There was no way we were going to give up on this boy. He had a rough start to life and we were going to make sure he was given every chance possible to get better. Each day he showed such determination and will. Within a few days, the “bob” in his head started to diminish and he was able to eat and drink out of bowls without our help.

He would scoot himself around on blankets in the open, so we started standing him and holding him up to use his legs. At first he was very uncoordinated and clumsy. He would move his legs and his feet would curl under. But each day seemed he showed improvement. We started taking him outside and holding him up with a sling. His little legs would go and go. But he was still unable to get up and go on his own.

We moved him out to the kitchen where he could be part of all the activity with the other dogs. He started to stand on his own, take a couple wobbly steps and fall. But it was progress! Each day he was better and better.

Within 4 weeks of being told that this puppy was cognitively unresponsive, had no quality of life and the recommendation was to euthanize, Brick was not only standing, walking and eating on his own, but running in the yard, wagging his tail and playing with other dogs.

Brick’s illness remains a mystery. Three independent distemper test results were negative. The additional tests run were also all negative. We will never know for certain what started his neurologic decline. What we do know as a fact is that he is another Stray Rescue miracle. Never give up!!!" -Stray Rescue of St. Louis

I am a sobbing mess right now! I have never met this dog and I love him so much. I just want to give him a big hug and tell him what a good dog he is! I'm so glad that Brick made it and is now happy and healthy and ready for a forever home. I'm so grateful to the people who save animals lives.

At this point, I was ready to start the painting. I gave a lot of thought into the style and what I wanted to portray when I created the artwork. I obviously thought it would be great to incorporate bricks in the painting, but I didn't want them to be overwhelming. A pattern behind a subject can sometimes steal the attention from the actual subject. I knew I wanted it to be gritty and have lots of texture. I knew a sterile, clean lined painting was not the way to portray this dog's life thus far. But I also didn't want the messiness and texture to dominate the painting, because he is done with that story. He has a fresh start and is strong enough to start over.

I thought about adding color, creating a colorful painting. The dog is black and white, which is no problem, I could add blues and purples to the dark areas and light colors to the highlights, but I decided to go with black and white for several reasons. One, it is the dog's natural colors, that is who he is, and he is beautiful just as he is. Two, it would show the black and white and all shades of grey in between. He's been hiding in a dark, broken building alone. He's been in the grey in between, nearly dead, but in the capable hands of Stray Rescue. And soon, he will have a forever home. His future looks bright!

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