I am a big fan of Hallie, the blind dog that paints, and so delighted she agreed to an interview. I am certain you’ll enjoy getting to know this very special (and talented!) little dog.
How did you meet your mom?
One night when I was about 10 months old, my people took me and my sister and brother to an animal shelter and locked us in the night drop-off kennel. We were scared in there. One of the shelter employees called my soon-to-be Mom because she had lost her other longhaired dachshund girl four years earlier and was still so broken hearted she didn’t have another dog-child. They asked her if she would foster the three of us so we wouldn’t have to stay in the shelter while we waited for new homes. So she did and she found homes for us (because she was still vowing to not get a dog again herself) but after she took my brother and sister to their new homes, she just couldn’t let me go, so she kept me. And the funny thing is, I knew from the second we laid eyes on each other that I would be staying with her. And on some level, I think she knew it too. I promised her I’d take good care of her, and I have ever since.
What got you interested in painting?
My Mom and I always did fun things and we trained all the time. To me it was a big game and I loved it. I won obedience titles and learned a lot of tricks. When I was 10 years old, I had earned most of my titles so we didn’t go to shows as often. Mom taught me more tricks so I would still have something fun to learn. She is an artist also (I think she gets it from me) so one winter day when it was cold out and I was bored, she got the idea to see if I wanted to learn how to paint too. I surprised her by learning very fast and doing my first painting within a few weeks. I really got into it! And the better the treat involved…the faster I painted!
Do you have a favorite painting?
I am most proud of my first painting. My Mom has it framed on the wall. She has a video of me painting it. My style was different then, when I could still see. You can watch the video here.
Can you tell us about your painting process?
First my Mom puts my red artist’s beret on my head, because every proper painter needs a beret. Then she sets up my paints and my easel. Mom sits behind my easel and sets a jar of paint next to me. I reach down and find the brush, and pick it up in my mouth. Then I start dabbing at the paper with the brush in my mouth until it’s time to switch colors. If I am painting for a crowd we let the kids all sit close around me and yell out which color I should use next. I used to paint by my Mom’s cue but now I can’t hear anymore either so I just take charge and paint on my own. Mom has to watch me because when she’s setting things up or taking things down, I will wander around on my own searching for the paint brush and if I find it, she will turn around and see me sitting there all alone, painting the air!
Do you mind explaining what happened to your eyesight?
Sure! One day I could see. The next I couldn’t. It turns out I have an autoimmune disease called SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome). But I say it stands for Super Awesomely Rad Dachshund Syndrome. My body basically attacked my own retinas when I was 10 years old. My Mom found out about a researcher at Iowa State University who has had success in getting sight back for some SARDS dogs. So we flew out there but my retinas were too damaged for him to help me. We came home and were both very depressed for weeks. Slowly I was able to cheer my Mom back up (I HAD promised to take care of her after all). And I showed her what a doxie can do, even blind! Nothing can keep a good doggie down!
Have your paintings changed since becoming blind?
Yes, a lot. One reason is Mom has figured out the best thickness to keep the paint and also the best size brush for me to paint with. But also, before I was blind I used to paint with a lighter stroke and I was more decisive on where to put the strokes. Now since I can’t see the paper, I just grab the brush and start stabbing, hoping I hit the paper! So my strokes now are much bolder and broader than they used to be.
I heard your paintings sell well. Where do the proceeds go?
The majority goes to a wonderful dog rescue called Purple Heart Rescue. They do great work with hard case dogs that really need them. We are trying to help them raise enough money to erect a building on the land they have, so they can help more dogs and train and rehab them on-site.
Sometimes I donate to other rescues and causes, too. Since I know what it feels like to be abandoned and left alone, I never want another dog to feel that way; especially if they have health issues like being blind. Of course, I don’t consider my blindness a problem – it makes me seem kind of mysterious and cool!
How do people hear about your art?
At first I only painted for fun. But then my Mom thought maybe we could try to sell the art and I could donate the money to dog rescue organizations. Then things got big. The local newspaper wrote a story about me, and we were on several TV shows. The networks picked it up and lots of people learned of us on the internet. Then I won a Humanitarian Award and we went to a big banquet. Mom and I both were part of the filming of a documentary this summer, on my Mom’s art, but I got as much air time as she did, maybe more! I still do demo’s and interviews, and Mom and I hang our paintings together at different places. So through all that, people hear about my art and go to my website to buy it. My art is selling all around the world! People actually stop us on the street now because they recognize me.
You sure are a smart little lady. Please tell us about your accomplishments outside of the art studio.
Well, I earned my CD (Companion Dog) and RN (Rally Novice). We didn’t go on to the next levels in obedience since Mom doesn’t allow me to jump because of my long back and all. Also, as far as we can tell by researching, I’m the first Dachshund to get a Schutzhund title. (I did the first level, B, because there is no bitework or jumping at that level). I also passed the Canine Good Citizen test.
I am a first rate model and my Mom dresses me up in all kinds of things and takes photos of me; she’s a photographer as well as an artist. I adore dressing up for photo shoots, and have my own calendars, greeting cards, etc.
Now, my favorite thing to do is K9 Nosework. It is a competition where a scented Q-tip is hidden in four areas. Each dog/handler team typically gets between two to three minutes to find the scent in each area. You have to pass all four on the same day to earn your title. I can do this with my…um….eyes closed. I love Nosework!
Last January I earned my first title, NW1, and I came in 8th place out of 33 sighted dogs. On the same day I also won the Harry Award, which is given at the NW1 level to the most outstanding rescue dog that demonstrates extraordinary ability and spirit in Nosework. Boy did my Mom cry!
Recently I won a contest to be on the cover of a Top Dog calendar. I’m on the cover and I’m Miss May.
Where can our readers see your work?
What plans do you have for the future?
We are working on a children’s book. Mom has been busy making calendars and greeting cards with pictures of me and I still demo my painting and make appearances at different functions. But mostly my plans for the future are to snag as many crumbs off the floor as I can, and to snuggle with Mom.
You are a real inspiration, Hallie. Thanks for your time.
Thank YOU! And I’d like to say to everyone out there with “handicapped” doggies of any kind: the handicap is in the human’s mind, not the dogs. Help them live their lives to the very fullest because they aren’t ready to give up. I was scared and depressed after I went blind. But slowly, my Mom and I worked to get my confidence (and hers) back and now I run and have fun like I always did. There are just a lot more pillows involved now days.
All photos courtesy of Hallie’s Mom
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell