When Mark Barone and Marina Dervan decided to start a nonprofit company to create a way to remember dogs that lost their lives in kill shelters, they had no way of knowing that the project would take on a life of its own.
At first glance, An Act of Dog seems to be a gallery of the faces of dogs. A closer look reveals that each picture has a date underneath, which represents the day the dog died in a shelter because it did not find a home.
While the project appears to be an overwhelmingly sad one, Barone and Dervan believe it carries a message that people need to hear.
An Act of Dog began in September 2011 with a focused objective: To raise $20 million to be given directly to funding no-kill shelters, foster groups and proactive marketing campaigns. Barone and Dervan decided to start the project after considering an adoption. They didn't adopt at that time, but what they did learn startled them -- the statistics that showed them 5,500 dogs died every day because they weren't in no-kill shelters.
"We asked ourselves how we could be part of the solution," Dervan told HLN in a phone interview.
Barone's vision for the project was to create awareness on a level so large that people would be unable to ignore it. And so he made the commitment to paint the faces of 5,500 shelter dogs who had lost their lives and to house them in a large-scale memorial museum.
Barone paints an average of 10 paintings a day, which are 12-by-12 inch and painted on wood. Since 2011, he has painted over 4,000. He's also created ten 8-by-8 foot canvases. One of them is of his own dog of 21 years, Santina, who will act as the gatekeeper at the museum.
Barone said he is often asked why cats are not a part of the project. While they do have one 8-by8 foot portrait of a cat named Porkchop, they have not painted them regularly. Since he and Dervan have funded the project with their own savings, he tells HLN it's simply a matter of not having the resources to add cats -- at this point, anyway. They revealed to HLN that they used their retirement fund to make An Act of Dog a reality, and now they are too far down the line to consider ever going back.
Barone also added a special set to the collection recently, which he calls "The Safe Haven 19." When he and Dervan found out that a no-kill shelter in Delaware euthanized 19 of its dogs because the shelter made a decision the dogs were aggressive (previous paperwork proved they were not), they knew those dogs needed to be remembered.
The project thrives off of donations, and thanks to them, it is able to keep going. Mellwood Art Center in Louisville, Kentucky, has housed the current collection of paintings, and a company has donated the type of paint needed for the 5,500 works of art.
"The people that donated the most are the ones that have the least," Dervan told HLN.
Barone said that as the project grows, he would like to offer classes at the museum so that he can teach kids how to paint. He hopes they will carry on the project in the future.
"There's a disconnect between people's love of animals and the actual situation of how many are actually dying every day," Dervan told HLN. "For us, this project is totally heart-driven, much bigger than us. You come to understand that your life is no longer just about you anymore. It's about social change."
"The art will be here long after I'm gone," Barone said. "The dogs that were killed become part of the solution. Art speaks volumes. That's why we had to do this."